A people’s vote is the only way out

Parliament is now in recess but our work to fight against Brexit continues. I am speechless at the sheer contempt and arrogance of those who rigged the voting system of the UK during the EU referendum and try to get away with it.

We, as Lib Dems, who uphold the rule of law and believe in fair play did not act illegally as some supporters of Vote Leave or Leave.EU did in the run up to the referendum. People such as Dominic Cummings have used Cambridge Analytica to micro target online users with their untruthful ads without their knowledge or permission. This was facilitated by Facebook who provided the values, demographics, location and even “psychographic” profiles of groups of voters based on their personalities. These techniques originate from military “psy-ops” used to confuse the enemy and to ultimately control or conquer. Regardless of how effective or prevalent these techniques are, they should not be the norm for conducting our elections. The Observer and The Guardian journalists have very astutely uncovered a black hole at the heart of our democracy where transparency is eroded making it easier to mislead the electorate by unfettered and unscrutinised advertising that goes unchallenged. It makes it easier to make misleading or untrue statements. But even more dangerous, it makes it possible for foreign interference in our elections.

The Commons Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) Chair, Damian Collins MP, has said that it is no less than an attack on our democracy. The select committee have exposed the weaknesses in our electoral systems where people/organisations can cheat, exceed spending limits and publish ads that are deliberately misleading. They used AggregateIQ and BeLeave to funnel monies illegally to them in order to spread their false advertising. Shockingly, BeLeave even put out Facebook ads during the self imposed period of suspension after Jo Cox’s murder on 16th June 2017.

So where does this leave the viability of Brexit now? Theresa May has been at the helm for two years trying to navigate a path towards Brexit between the warring tribes of her own party. As we get nearer to the day of final negotiations we see no clear plan, no acceptable way to leave the single market or the customs union without retaining its economic advantages, loss of soft political power through our membership of the biggest trading bloc in the world, no longer a member of the security apparatus such as the EU arrest warrant, but we will still have to pay dues in order to have access to approval for our new pharmaceuticals through the EMA, lost membership of Gallileo, the Open Skies system and a number of other very vital agencies of the EU which we take for granted.
So I would argue that it is vital that we voters “take back control” and exercise our democratic rights by demanding a People’s Vote. This is the only way out. More and more people agree with us; there were 100,000 marchers at the last rally for the People’s Vote. We must seize our chance now.

* Marguerita Morton is a Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and an Executive Member of Chinese Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • William Fowler 31st Jul '18 - 1:05pm

    Until recently the polls did suggest that the referendum was a reasonable reflection of the voters choices so going over old ground isn’t really going to get us anywhere. Clarification from the EU and an improved offer to what they gave Cameron are the ways to galvanize the need for a second vote so the LibDems should be doing a charm offensive on the likes of Merkel and Macron. Until the LibDems come up with a way to mitigate mass flows of low skilled euro immigrants they don’t really have much of a case but if you were clever you would go for a citizens income to replace all benefits and the personal tax allowance but make it dependent (and retrospective) on a minimum of five years residence, thus disadvantaging low skilled immigrants as they would not get any benefits or the personal tax allowance as they would no longer exist!. Essential personnel could, of course, be exempt from the residence test.

  • So taking N.Farages comment at face value: “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the Remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.” And interpret ‘Remain’ to mean those with differing views to him and thus equally applies to the Leave campaign.

    I suggest we need to come up with a formula that gets at least an 82% turnout and a result where at least 82% vote for one particular outcome (gives a 67% win, slightly over the two-thirds).

  • Michael Cole 31st Jul '18 - 1:28pm

    Theresa May is about two moves away from checkmate.

    The prospect of Brexit gets worse by the day.

    What a wonderful act of democracy (and escape) it would be if she declared in favour of a ‘people’s vote’.

  • Andrew Daer 31st Jul '18 - 1:34pm

    Marguerita accurately sums up the absurdity of letting modern technology twist the operation of what is (rather loosely) known as ‘democracy’. One thing she left out is that Cummings is going to take the rap for the illegality, while Johnson, Gove and Raab have all quietly melted away. It seems that being senior members of the committee did not entitle them to know what Cummings was doing.
    A bigger problem to me, however, is that holding a referendum was, with hindsight, a lousy idea – so lousy it seems, that we think we ought to have another one. Democracy in Britain is achieved by delegating sovereignty to MPs; this ensures people cleverer and better informed than us make the decisions. At a general election we change the overall flavour of the government every few years, and all MPs are constrained not to do things we don’t like by the fear of not being elected next time. The bad news for those who believe in the mythical ‘will of the people’ is that that is as good as democracy gets. Living in a democratic country does not mean the ordinary man or woman in the street gets to make the important decisions.
    If Brexit looks an utterly insane idea (and it does) Parliament should decide to cancel it.

  • John Marriott 31st Jul '18 - 1:46pm

    At last, we are only now finding out how difficult life might become for many people in the event of a ‘No deal’ Brexit. Perhaps we should have had this kind of debate BEFORE we voted just over two years ago. But no, of course, it’s all just ‘Project Fear’, isn’t it?

  • OnceALibDem 31st Jul '18 - 2:18pm

    I thought the party didn’t want people using the phrase ‘People’s Vote’

  • A People’s Vote seems to be becoming almost inevitable (not bothered if it is called a People’s Vote or Final Say). The important thing is that Liberal Democrats are in the vanguard of this movement, as we have been from the start when Brexiteers were trying to rubbish us and the idea. The important thing now is to be prepared for that critical vote , by making sure everyone who is qualified is registered to vote, be they young (remembering that there is an additional cohort of voters who were 16 at the time of the last referendum) or older, living in the UK or are currently expats. In the last referendum, many expats did not get their postal voting materials in time! It needs to be better this time, or we ask expats to return to the Uk to ensure that their vote counts! Let’s mobilise.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jul '18 - 4:55pm

    @Paul D B “A People’s Vote seems to be becoming almost inevitable … The important thing is that Liberal Democrats are in the vanguard of this movement, as we have been from the start when Brexiteers were trying to rubbish us and the idea.”
    When a Remain victory looked likely, it was the Brexiteers who were in the vanguard of the movement for another referendum and Lib Dems who were rubbishing the idea, e.g. Tim Farron dismissing a “neverendum”. Even after the referendum, Vince Cable described another referendum as “disrespectful” to voters and “politically counterproductive”.

    Furthermore, members of the party often seem to challenge the principles of the 2016 referendum (it was only advisory, referendums are a poor alternative that undermine representative government, etc.) while simultaneously calling for another one (without clearly stating what should be the question(s) asked in that referendum).

    I believe that this lack of consistency has damaged what was already a dismal campaign to remain in the EU and done the Lib Dems themselves no favours.

  • @John Marriott – To many Brexiteers it is still Project Fear, just that they don’t get the irony of it when they claim that if Brexit doesn’t happen there will be riots etc. as this isn’t Project Fear in their minds but fact…

    Just as they don’t like N.Farages words being quoted back to them: “There could be unstoppable demand for a re-run of the EU referendum if RemainLeave wins by a narrow margin on 23 June”…

  • Peter Martin 31st Jul '18 - 7:44pm

    “We, as Lib Dems, who uphold the rule of law and believe in fair play did not act illegally as some supporters of Vote Leave or Leave.EU did in the run up to the referendum.”


  • I am remain and a LibDem.

    To be honest there was not a lot of information about what the EU actually was. It also did not help that a remain party like Labour had a Brexit Leader, who was only on remain as he was leader of the Labour party but in all honesty gave a stuffed lemon campaign and went on holiday during the campaign. What should have been coming from a Labour leader was the laws the EU passed on better employment rights and anti-discrimination laws, he did not of that and then said during a campaign that he was only 7 out of 10 for the EU.

    If we had another People’s Vote it will not succeed if people do not know exactly what the EU is about and that is the main message that needs to be got out. I know someone that voted leave, he had voted UKIP during the GEs of 2010 and 2015. His reason for leaving was to control our borders and make our own laws. He said that he is not know what laws the EU had made. He even admitted that he did not know what the EU was anyway. Since the vote he said all you get on the media is about brexit and is from this that he is now learning what the EU was and now thinks that perhaps it was not all bad and a pity he did not know this before.

    Like I said it is education that is key here.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jul '18 - 10:28pm

    A people’s vote is the only way out, but there is very little time left.
    Downing Street are refusing to recognise this democratic option, so that there is increasingly little time.

  • William Fowler 1st Aug '18 - 7:35am

    Macron is meeting Mrs May over the weekend, could he charm some sense into her? The French leader seems to have luck on his side and would probably be happy to stop the UK’s exit with some kinda improved deal. Here’s hoping.

  • Philip Knowles 1st Aug '18 - 8:55am

    @Peter Martin
    If you read the Sky report that you provided the link to you will find that the LibDems did not “behave illegally as some supporters of Vote Leave or Leave.EU did in the run up to the referendum.” . They failed to accurately complete their returns AFTER the referendum. A breach of the rules is not ‘illegal’. However, Vote Leave have been referred to the police because they did break the law by exceeding the spending limit BEFORE the referendum and then deliberately filed a false return.

  • @Peter Wilson

    I am surprised that you are not aware of the building consensus across parties around the questions in the People’s Vote – The questions to be used in the People’s Referendum should be along the lines of:-
    1) Remain
    2) Leave on the terms the government negotiates
    3) No deal

    Second choice preference to be made. It’s quite simple and clear. Brexiteers might not like it but it is what the people want.

  • William Fowler 1st Aug '18 - 12:05pm

    With these three questions, will the second choice be mandatory or optional? Just thinking that the Brexiteers will opt for the two leave options as first and second whereas the remain will be forced to chose between two leave options as their second choice if the second choice is mandatory. A fourth option of staying in single market?

  • Peter Watson 1st Aug '18 - 12:34pm

    @Paul D B
    “I am surprised that you are not aware of the building consensus across parties around the questions in the People’s Vote”
    It’s more the shortcomings of the Lib Dem position and strategy that I’m trying to highlight (as an instinctive supporter of remaining in the EU) which often seem to undermine the party’s stated goal …
    Wanting an in/out referendum, then not wanting one when it came (and not being prepared for it). Rejecting the idea of a second referendum, then wanting one. Then being unclear about the terms of such a “people’s vote” (even the petition for a people’s vote does not define it and it simply looks like an undisguised attempt to stop Brexit).

    Lib Dems have made opposition to Brexit a party-defining policy to the extent they look more like a single-issue pressure group than a political party, yet somehow, tragically, its position does not look unambiguous, crystal clear, or consistent. It’s not helped by trying to reconcile talk of respecting the result of the 2016 referendum with appearing not to respect it at all. When Tim Farron spoke to Andrew Neill before the 2017 general election, even this topic became one more car crash in a multi-vehicle pile-up of an interview.

    Consequently, polling (and last year’s general election) indicates that more than 80% of those who agree with the party on such an important issue still won’t vote for it. That does not look like a good foundation for rebuilding the party or for stopping Brexit (which if it is stopped looks more likely to be because of the Government’s failure or by Tory/Labour MPs, so Lib Dems might still not get any credit).

  • Peter Watson 1st Aug '18 - 12:51pm

    @Paul D B “The questions to be used in the People’s Referendum should be along the lines of:-”
    If the campaign for another referendum is to be successful, then I think it is vital for it to define clearly the terms of the referendum it wants. At the moment it just looks like a vague Brexit-blocking second bite of the cherry of the kind that the Remain campaign dismissed when it thought it would win in 2016.
    Multiple choices seem sensible (but then it probably would to us since as a group we’ve probably wanted electoral reform for decades!), but as William Fowler points out, even three choices might not be enough. I suspect that choosing preferences might be more complicated than the binary choice of previous referendums where analysis could give way to gut feel, so the referendum campaign might require more time and more measured debate than before. And that valuable time is ticking away, which is why I feel that a clearer vision, a better strategy, less antagonism towards opponents, and more cross-party / non-party co-operation are all urgently needed.

  • Peter Martin 1st Aug '18 - 1:28pm

    Having just been accused of throwing a “diversionary flak” by Martin I might just add that I do happen to agree that another referendum is the best way to settle the matter. I’d have either 2 or 3 options on the ballot paper. Remain, Leave and any possible deal that may be negotiated. The voters can just choose to vote for the one they prefer or number their choices 1,2 and 3.

    @ Martin,

    Bob Posner explained the imposition of the £18,000 fine with reference to the phrase “meeting their legal obligations”. As in the Lib Dems not meeting their legal obligations. But this is different from “not acting illegally”? OK if you say so!

    Of course you can disagree with my viewpoint but it is consistent and it does “add up”. If you think otherwise that’s ‘cos you don’t understand it.

  • John Barrett 1st Aug '18 - 4:18pm

    Could someone clarify what the party would do in the event of another referendum producing the same result as last time.

    If the answer to the above question is not clear, before that second referendum, those wishing for another referendum should understand the risks associated with what they are wishing for.

    Or will the line still be, that while we respect the result of the vote, we will campaign to reverse it?

  • @John Barrett – Agree, this was the thrust of my point, we need to be sure that whatever the result it is decisive and not statistically insignificant. The result is important to both the country and those outside with whom we wish to negotiate.

    In the case of an, indecisive result, I can see the EU standing back and letting the UK fall over the March 29th cliff edge.

  • Mick Taylor 1st Aug '18 - 4:54pm

    I think parliament should grow a spine and do its job, which is to look at what is on offer – if anything – on Brexit and decide whether it’s best for the UK or not. I am not a referendum fan and fear greatly that a third referendum would be lost.
    My response, were a referendum to come to the same result as in 2016, would be to leave the UK. I am fortunate in that I do have an alternative.
    I have said elsewhere that unless a campaign to stay in the EU appeals to the heart and not just the head it will lose. That’s why it was lost in 2016. Leaving any remain campaign in the hands of those who ran the 2016 campaign would be the height of folly. Fear and facts will not win. Optimism, campaigning to change the EU and a serious programme to tackle the very real problems of inequality that have left a significant section of the population behind will be the very least required to get a remain result. Sadly, I just can’t see the necessary leadership to do the job.
    I don’t think our party could continue to fight against Brexit if a third referendum was lost and it would have to accommodate to the resultant mess and maybe in the future campaign to go back in.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Aug '18 - 5:09pm

    One issue that has not received sufficient coverage is that this referendum took people by surprise. Many had a vague idea of what they thought about the EU but it was not hardened by debate, research and reflection. On top of that the leave campaign threw everything into their campaign and we have a recipe for voting on a whim rather than a considered decision. Next time, I think people will be better prepared as hopefully will also the process and those supervising it.

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