How can the Government proceed with Brexit if there’s evidence the public has changed its mind?

Of all the constitutional crises talked about round Brexit, surely the biggest is taking an irrevocable step that doesn’t have the backing of the British people at the point that it is made. If the UK exits the European Union on 29th March next year, it’s starting to look as if that move will not have the backing of the electorate.

Prospect magazine has analysis of YouGov polls conducted over the past two years which suggests that Remain would win a referendum on the Brexit deal. That surely means that the Government’s full-speed-ahead, devil-may-care approach to Brexit has no democratic mandate.

The only way to sort this one out is to ask the people again. Tom Brake said:

The euphoria that some felt after the Brexit vote is being replaced with a Brexit hangover as the Brexit challenges start to stack up.

With the customs union, the Irish border and the divorce bill, the Government have bitten off more than they can chew and public opinion is beginning to bite back.

That is why the Liberal Democrats are fighting to give the people the final say on the deal, and an offer of an exit from Brexit.

Layla Moran disagreed with Nick Clegg on Twitter this week when he said that Parliament should take back control of the Brexit process:

The Liberal Democrats have ensured that there will be an amendment on a Referendum on the deal when the EU Withdrawal Bill comes back to the Commons.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • David Evans 26th May '18 - 9:14am

    Because they have the power, Jeremy Corbyn has always wanted us to leave (but it won’t stop him blaming the fallout on the Conservatives), and the Lib Dems are so weakened by the self-inflicted disaster that was coalition that we are totally ignored. Get used to life on the fringes.

  • Nom de Plume 26th May '18 - 9:36am

    I am not sure that stopping Brexit, in the sense of returning to a pre-June 2016 state, is possible. Even if there was another referendum. The EU is in the process of finalising their budget for after 2020, without Britain. I get no sense from anywhere in the EU that there is an expectation of reversing the decison, or even a willingness. Signing article 50 was definitive. We may be out of Galileo, with, I expect, more to come follow April 2019. It is only the LibDems, and, perhaps, other liberals who would like to reverse the decision. Whatever our relationship is with the EU in the future, it will be different from what it was in the past.

    I would agree that the Tories are handling Brexit poorly. It was always going to be the case. They don’t know what they want. Not anything the EU will agree to. It is all very regretable.

  • Peter Watson 26th May '18 - 9:41am

    One weakness of this analysis is that the same polling was predicting a victory for Remain before the EU Referendum, so we cannot be clear – even when trying to identify trends – that it is any more representative.
    Also, if taking this Yougov polling so seriously, then Lib Dem policy is undermined by the fact that it shows that opposition to a second referendum is more clear cut than “Bregret”.
    If there is a trend towards regretting Brexit and if there is not support for a second referendum then it might be logical to adopt a position of “parliament taking back control” rather than dismissing it, but that opens up a different can of worms!

  • I’m afraid once Pandora’s box was opened it would be a devilishly difficult job to get the ills that escaped it back in the box. Why we still have numerous brave Brexiteers peddling their own private Brexit seemingly oblivious to the fact that they voted for the pig in the poke option and they’ll get the pig they are given (or as is increasingly looking likely a rabid dog masquerading as a pig ). There is too much selfworth invested in Brexit for too many politicians for them to turn round, the pain will have to get much worse before they will fudge Brexit and even then they’ll blame the EU and squeal “It would have been fine, if only they had settled for my private Brexit”.
    The one good point of Brexit is it will force us as a society to face up to our failings, much will change and many of us having a “nice” live will get a rude awakening as life gets harder. The risk of cause is the brave Brexiteers will flock to the next populasist who promises them unicorns, fairy wings and brave Admiral Wee Moggs tugboat squadrons beating Jonny Foreigner up and down the channel because we are exceptional. We are about to face reality, but the risk is it is far too hard and we retreat back into the arms of delusion.

  • The poor polling results before the election are ammunition for those keen to get out of the EU, as Peter Watson says, and will always be quoted by them. The main reason it is difficult to get a new vote before leaving is the intransigence of the Rees-Mogg tendency. They are holding the government to ransom and will threaten to bring Theresa May down if she concedes another referendum or even membership of the customs union. Democracy ended in 2016 as far as they are concerned. Having said that, if there is clear evidence of a considerable change of mind, say 60%/40% there is a chance the government might concede a vote so we must keep campaigning. A good result in Lewisham East would be a real boost.

  • Considering that the most recent poll actually shows just a 1% lead that the decision of the referendum is wrong might I suggest that these LibDem HOPES are much misplaced.

    Consider if you will that the vast majority of publicity since the result has been achieved by Remoaners then those who think they can overturn the result are living in cloud cuckoo land I would suggest. Imagine what will happen during a campaign for a second referendum, the first thing is that all publicity would be equalised, and if the Remoaners can only achieve a 1% lead when the publicity is so overwhelmingly in their favour then that bodes very badly for the result of such a second referendum. Also of course is the fact that the Remoaners are being blamed for the EU being so intransigent in their supposed ‘negotiations’ with the UK.

    Remoaners are on a lose-lose here, but they are so blinkered that they do not see it. Ah well.

  • William,
    Events dear boy events. Nothing the brave Brexiteers promised has come true. Now we may Brexit but if we do we will all be moaning and Brexiteers will be moaning most. You seem reluctant to be held account for your decision, like many a brave Brexiteer you just want to move on, but we can’t William and many a dismal painful day lies ahead, you can console yourself with blaming the EU and remoaners but the one fact you can’t get away from was even with all the warnings you were given you voted for this.

  • Peter Martin 26th May '18 - 1:27pm

    Just like before the EUref of 2016, the polls give both sides enough to keep their hopes buoyant. Anthony Wells always takes an intelligent approach and cautions both sides against reading too much into them. He often makes the point that the answer the pollsters get is often dependent on just how the question is phrased.

    Remainers can take some comfort that they look to be ahead in the polls. But that’s nothing new. Leavers can take comfort from:

    “On a second referendum, 37% of people said there should be a second referendum ……., 49% think there should not ”

    What might surprise some people, but perhaps not those like myself who often make a point of chatting to people in the pub or on the train is just how voters it all wrong:

    “38% don’t know if the Conservatives prefer the single market or ending freedom of movement, 44% don’t know what Labour think, 48% don’t know what the Lib Dems think, and some that do get it wrong – 21% of people think the Conservative’s (sic) favour staying in the single market.

  • Malcolm Todd 26th May '18 - 2:01pm

    “Remoaners – Remoaners – Remoaners”; “brave Brexiteers – brave Brexiteers – brave Brexiteers”

    Can we please cut the childish name-calling? Is anyone impressed or inspired by it?

  • An unknown proportion of those who voted Remain do not regret their vote but now believe the outcome of the Referendum should be respected. The polls do not always capture this viewpoint especially those polls which have been designed to promote a particular viewpoint.

  • David Becket 26th May '18 - 4:26pm

    The second vote might still be our Plan A, but Plan B should be EFTA. We should be pressing the government now to stop these negotiations that will lead nowhere and look at the EFTA solution. That involves leaving the EU, which is what a small majority voted for, without doing the damage.

  • paul barker 26th May '18 - 6:41pm

    A Peoples Vote is our Plan A for now but at some point it will be too late to organise one & then we must demand that Parliament Votes Brexit down. A Soft Brexit would be the last resort.
    We need to keep fighting right up to the last minute & that means dropping the idea of a Popular Vote at some point.

  • That there is evidence that any significant percentage of the public has actually changed its mind on leaving the EU is a rather dubious interpretation of the polling figures presented in my view.

    I think the referendum result was the stupidest decision the British public has ever made; the plan of how to actually leave the EU clearly non-existent; and the negotiations an utter shambles. However, I’ve not found much of the discourse from the remain side – both outside and within the party – particularly inspiring, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Whilst I agree with much of what has and is being said, it often comes across to me as if not really understanding the reasons the (albeit extremely narrow) majority of the public voted to leave to begin with.

    I have my doubts that a second referendum would actually be won, and if it was, by an equally small margin as it was lost the first time, which doesn’t really resolve the issue either.

  • William Fowler 27th May '18 - 7:12am

    As Nick Clegg said, Europe has a history of war and division, bringing the people of these countries together was/is a great idea but the UK has a different history and of beating the odds when sorting the Europeans out in a war… the EU played up as the bad guys for 40 years whilst our own politicians wrecked the country is a hard monologue to pull back from and at the moment all we have to look forward to is Labour trying to turn the country into a Marxist paradise (why they want out of the EU). Only way there would be a clear vote in favour of staying in the EU is if the EU offered a much better deal than they did to Cameron so there would be a sense of beating Brussels but I guess no chance of that as there would be too much loss of face for the bureaucrats.

  • Peter Martin 27th May '18 - 8:35am

    There’s been all kinds of gloomy predictions about the future of the UK after Brexit. The pound will fall in value to below 50 eurocents etc etc. We won’t be able to feed ourselves. The economy will collapse. Unemployment will skyrocket. We’ll be back in the 60’s with B&W TV sets and no microwave ovens! We’ve all heard it often enough.

    So if things are really this bad wouldn’t the UK be considered a very poor credit risk? We’d be like Argentina, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. No-one would want to lend us money at any price. Especially if the loan was denominated in pounds which are shortly going to be worth half as much as they are now. If we are lucky!

    So maybe you’d like to take a look at the link below to see what the UK government pays by way of interest on borrowed money? 1% pa on 5 year bonds sounds pretty cheap to me!

  • nvelope2003 27th May '18 - 9:09am

    Peter Martin : I have never heard any of the predictions you mention – has anyone else ? This is typical Leave propaganda. There has been some concern that growth in the UK economy might be less than it would be if we stayed in the EU so do not exaggerate. My own concern is that if the EU were to break up then the peace in Western Europe which has lasted for 73 years might be put at risk so why take that risk. A war would cost a lot more money than the cost of EU bureaucracy and trade restrictions

    Back to black and white TVs and no microwave ovens ? – well that says it all. Time to move on. And no I do not think we should have another referendum as there is no real evidence that the result would be any different. If it was the same as last time then the Liberal Democrats would be finished.

  • Peter Martin 27th May '18 - 10:27am


    You obviously don’t read the Guardian! We are shortly due to fall off the economic cliff according to them!

    PS I wasn’t being totally serious about B&W TV sets. It’s called parody!

  • I think the phrase, ” if you’re going there, I wouldn’t start from here” is appropriate. We got off on the wrong foot. We should have a consensus and a definite direction of travel and we have neither. We will certainly need another vote at some stage and perhaps more importantly a framework in which constitutional issues can progress. This referendum has done nothing other than make referenda unpopular.

  • There is no average leave voter, but one substantial group includes those like Farage, who can’t stand the idea that little countries like Belgium get to boss us around in the EU Parliament, and who think this fails to recognise the natural supremacy of the British. Leaving the EU, for them, means not having to endure that humiliation again, and that was why “take back control” was so powerful as a slogan. Trying to change those people’s minds with economic arguments is pointless.
    It makes more sense to focus on the 13 million who didn’t vote in the referendum, who logically ought to be telling pollsters they would now vote remain (they don’t have a mistaken decision to defend, as the bad news about Brexit relentlessly rolls in).
    However, what we all seem to be forgetting is that big political decisions are normally made in Parliament for a reason – argument and debate by people who have access to relevant facts and opinions is the right way to find a way forward. Decision-making by plebiscite lacks all those features, and instead allows slogan-writers to stir the emotions of a very largely uninformed general public. Given that, why have another referendum? Parliament ought to decide – and preferably soon. As has been said, cancelling Brexit won’t return things to how they were, but it will prevent much of the damage it would have caused.

  • Andrew Tampion 27th May '18 - 11:52am

    Going off on a slight tangent it seems to me that the mistake that most pro EU commentators make is the implicit assumption that all remain voters (AKA “the 48%”) in the 2016 referendum share their apparent unconditional love for the EU. When I voted remain it was with many and significant reservations. Of course I only speak for myself. However on Question Time recently Martin Lewis said that when he voted he was about 60/40 for remain. On Any Questions Paul Mason said that he was a reluctant remain voter and wanted significant reform to the EU. This, for me, explains why so many remain voters have accepted the result. We are not hurting, we haven’t given up we were never that keen in the first place.
    I think that William Fowler is right to suggest that the only if the EU where to offer substantial reform on sovereignty and freedom of movement is there any chance of a substantial pro EU vote. As James implies above what would a People’s Vote that resulted in 52/48 remain achieve other than leaving nearly half the electorate with a deep and abiding sense of grievance that they had been mugged by the Metropolitan Elite and how could such an outcome resolve the EU question? If the EU had come forward with an offer of reform and further concessions before Article 50 had been triggered things might be different: but they didn’t.
    Also it is often said that since the result of the vote was so close that the views of the 48% should be taken into account. Does that mean that if a People’s vote occurred and result in a 52/48 split in favour of remain that pro EU supporters would say that the views of the 48% who still wanted to leave should be respected and we should insist on further concessions from the EU?
    Final point the 2017 election in my view provides good evidence that a vote that the public considers unnecessary usually results in the electorate collectively punishing those who called for it.

  • @John Littler you can’t be in both EFTA and the EU customs union.

  • Unless we have given up on the constitution more than I thought, whatever polls say, in the end, MPs have to make decisions and face the consequences of how they vote, including what this does for the future of their parties as well as their individual futures. If we are not paying them for their considered judgements, what are we paying them for?

  • Katharine Pindar 27th May '18 - 6:40pm

    Amid all the uncertainty that must continue at present, I see three possible causes of hope of yet overturning Brexit. One is the new student campaign for a ‘People’s vote’, which I described in my piece ‘Time to appeal to youth, and to enrol more students’, appearing here earlier this month. This is hopeful because in a new referendum commitment to Remain by young people too young to vote two years ago could counteract the inevitable vote against by (mostly older) people wedded to the idea of Britain’s ‘sovereignty’ and not giving way to Brussels.

    The second reason for hope I see is that it is now possible to argue with less intransigent Leavers that most of the arguments they saw as convincing them to vote that way have now disappeared. Britain cannot be better off out of the EU, at least as regards the Internal Market and the Customs Union.

    And the third reason to me is that the situation could still be saved by Parliament if Jeremy Corbyn is persuaded by his MPs to back staying in the Internal Market as well as the (not A) Customs Union. The excellent Times feature writer Rachel Sylvester argued last week that the Labour leader ‘holds the trump card over Brexit’ and would boost his electoral chances by taking this further step towards alignment with the EU.

  • nvelope2003 27th May '18 - 8:25pm

    Peter Martin I am not a writer for the Guardian. Anna Soubry was being sarcastic as she knows the Brexiteers do not like talk of cliff edges. They prefer to talk about the cold shower of competition apparently, not to mention the destruction of British manufacturing which is inevitable according to the leading leave supporter Professor Patrick Mynford. What are we going to do with all those skilled workers ? As so many of them voted to Leave despite warnings from their employers I guess they are looking forward to huge redundancy payments from their bankrupt employers (funded by the taxpayers of course). There might not be enough money for that if things do not turn out as well as hoped so who would be laughing then ?

    Interesting that a leading Brexiteer who has a £5 billion investment portfolio which contains no British investments has millions invested in Russia despite sanctions following their invasion of Crimea and support for Ukrainian separatists. Actions speak louder than words.

  • Andrew Daer 28th May '18 - 7:40am

    Andrew Tampion, no-one loves the EU unconditionally. Like any institution it needs to constantly change, but remainers want to keep working at improving it, and leavers (because they dislike it for various reasons) want to give up and get out. The Brexit problem now is that we are giving up on the EU without having a viable alternative. That is the inevitable consequence of the UKIP-led campaign over the past 20 years being a purely negative one. Blaming the EU for being “un-elected bureaucrats” is about as far as they got in their thinking, which is why they were so stunned when they won, and why there is still no plan for post-Brexit trade with Europe, the Irish border, customs arrangements etc., two years after the referendum.
    The fact that no-one can solve these problems makes it blindingly obvious that leaving was the wrong decision. Any sane person would see that, including remainers who were 60/40 (or any other percentage) in June 2016. The current government knows it is bonkers to proceed, but they don’t care – because, as they keep reminding us, it’s “the will of the people”, so it won’t be their fault when it goes wrong. For Corbyn it’s all good, because he will be able to blame the Tories for the economic damage, will probably win the next election, and will be rid of the EU, which has always been too right-wing for his liking. We need to keep working on the Labour voters, and see if they can influence their leadership. [You can tell I’m an optimist !]

  • nvelope2003 28th May '18 - 3:10pm

    One of the things which Leavers seem unable to grasp is that when we leave the EU we will still have to observe their rules if we wish to trade with them but we will have no way of influencing the making of those rules.

    Apparently the Government has given the Electoral Commission £800,000 for the 2019 European Parliament Elections although we will have left the EU before they are due !

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th May '18 - 3:26pm

    I would make four observations.

    1 – Anything that involves REMAIN being on the ballot paper is straight to a neverendum. The only question I can see working at this point is, ‘do you wish to uphold the 2016 referendum decision.’ In no way at all should there be a LEAVE/REMAIN vote without asking UPHOLD/RESCIND first.

    2 – To my mind we very clearly should have joined the EEA/EFTA arrangement in the early 1990s. The position of EU IN/EZ OUT is not sustainable. What we need is what (I think) Macron is talking about – a full-blown political integration EZ and a ‘wider Europe’ tier. Now, clearly, some people think that Jean-Claude Juncker and Ever Closer Union are worth fighting to the death for – but the EEA is the best route for now.

    3 – There seems to be an idea doing the rounds that the EU is ‘the status quo.’ I would argue that it is really a bit of an ‘unknown.’ If in the year 2000 I has said that the EU would look like what we have now who would have believed me?

    4 – Looking at the internet (a dangerous thing, I know) REMAIN seem not to have understood exactly what happened at that vote. The Cameron message was basically, ‘buck up everyone – it’s not THAT bad.’ I see very little, if any, movement on from that message.

  • I recently found myself on a Daily Express forum “discussing” matters Brexit related (discussing in the loosest sense of the word). I recommend such an excursion to all posters here. The mood in Brexit land is getting ugly. They have no interest in reason debate, or weighing up the pros and cons. We voted out, so out it must be, preferably yesterday, and consequences be hanged, along with those members of the elite who would thwart the will of the people. Given this tempestuous, visceral tendency in the shires, Mrs. May might just possibly be our best chance of getting a Brexit which does not bankrupt our nation.
    Not possible to reverse the referendum decision, damage limitation the object is damage referendum.

  • LJP – “In no way at all should there be a LEAVE/REMAIN vote without asking UPHOLD/RESCIND first.”

    So you are saying that the 2016 vote was fundamentally flawed because voters weren’t first
    asked if they wanted to uphold or rescind the 75 vote on membership, right?

  • Peter Martin 30th May '18 - 12:59pm

    when we leave the EU we will still have to observe their rules if we wish to trade with them

    We’ll have to observe their rules to sell into their market. Which is fair enough.

    On the other hand, if the EU wish to sell into the UK market they’ll have to observe UK rules.

    As the EU runs a substantial surplus in its trade with the UK there’ll be more UK rules than EU rules.

    Not that it’s in our interest to have rules just for the sake of it, or to use the pretext of rules to hamper trade, but trade by it’s very nature does have to take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust. If the EU doesn’t trust us to pay for whatever we buy, we’ll just have to shop somewhere else!

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