The 2016 referendum result is unsustainable

How ironic that the future of a second referendum on Brexit now depends on the European Union saying “no” to Theresa May. What a farce the House of Commons has become. The key weakness in the current campaign for a second vote has been the failure by just about every parliamentarian to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the June 2016 referendum. MP after MP has parroted that “we must respect the result of the referendum”, “it would be a denial of democracy to have another vote”, or that the referendum demonstrated the “will of the people.” Nonsense! Even our own party sold the pass: immediately after the vote was declared, Time Farron, our then leader stated that “we must respect the result of the referendum.” Why on earth should anyone respect such a flawed and manipulated process? Certainly the four million people who signed a petition within a week of polling day did not.

As I wrote at the time, the party, with its steadfast sixty years of campaigning for a united Europe, should have put itself at the head of this campaign. With political leadership and assistance it could conceivably have gathered much more momentum – and, as a by-product, have greatly increased our lamentable vote at the 2017 general election.

Whatever the outcome of Theresa May’s crawling to EU negotiators over the next fortnight, unless the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum is undermined it will be difficult to achieve a second vote. It is not difficult to demonstrate the serious flaws of the 2016 vote. Just to take one aspect, if the House of Commons Library’s briefing paper, the Supreme Court and the then European Minister, and now Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, are on record as stating the referendum was only advisory, I am inclined to believe them.

The references for these statements and for all the other arguments are in my paper on why the 2016 referendum result is unsustainable. <

* Michael Meadowcroft joined the Liberal Party in 1958. He has served at every level of the party organisation. He was a Leeds City Councillor, West Yorkshire Met County Councillor and MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. For 25 years he led or was part of electoral missions to 35 new democracies on four continents.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Steve Trevethan 5th Feb '19 - 9:15am

    Thank you!
    This is an important contribution to finding ways to navigate through our current constitutional crisis.

  • @Steve, the current crisis is a political crisis, not a constitutional crisis, although depending on how Parliament acts or fails to act it could become a constitutional crisis…

  • Mick Taylor 5th Feb '19 - 10:09am

    Ruth Bright is absolutely correct. Not just in 2004! For years we were told that the EU was toxic and would lose us votes. Look where that ridiculous policy has got us.

  • Laurence Cox 5th Feb '19 - 11:30am

    @Ruth, @Mick
    Perhaps they didn’t want to talk about the EU because once you do you have to start being critical about some of its practices. This article in The Independent illustrates how the European Parliament is better than Westminster in some respects and worse in others:

    I have long complained about the spitzenkanditaten system that gave Juncker his position as President, even though his EPP Group gained only 29% of the vote. Shamefully, ALDE supported this stitch-up between the EPP and S&D when they should have been speaking out for the president being elected by a majority of the Parliament. The rise of populist parties in the forthcoming EU elections may come back to haunt them over this.

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Feb '19 - 11:48am

    Some of us have spent our political lives supporting a pro-EU party or parties. I highly recommend it.

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Feb '19 - 12:59pm

    I don’t think we could have put ourselves at the head of the Remain campaign when no one else wanted us to be there. Looking back on it the Referendum was a culmination of Tony Blair’s reliance on Focus groups and concentrating on a few marginal constituencies as well as the only way the Tories thought they could remain united. I think Tim was right in what he said but now the full horror of Brexit is being revealed it’s time MPs told their constituents what it’s going to mean rather than follow them blindly to the cliff edge.
    This requires courage but isn’t that what politics is ultimately about? The ability to lead, not follow.

  • Paul Holmes 5th Feb '19 - 1:30pm

    When we campaigned as the ‘Party of In’ in 2014 we lost 13 out of 14 MEP’s. When we campaigned as the ‘Party of Remain’ in 2017 we sank to 7.4% of the vote and ‘soared’ to an all time historic record of Lost Deposits.

    As for a ‘Constitutional Crisis’. The Conservative Party said in the 2015 election that if elected they would hold a Referendum. Once elected they held a Referendum, in which they wrote to every household to say they would implement the decision whatever it was. Now they are implementing that decision – as endorsed by around 500 MP’s who voted to start the 2 year Article 50 process in March 2017. In very recent Parliamentary votes there does not seem to be any sign of a majority in favour of rejecting these previous democratic decisions. It is not unconstitutional just because you don’t like/agree with the result of these various democratic votes.

    And yes, I voted Remain in 1975 and I campaigned for and voted Remain in 2016 and yes I think that the decision to Leave is a bad one. But yes, I am old fashioned enough to believe in democratic outcomes.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Will you ban future general elections – given that they will overturn previously decided democratic outcomes?

  • The difference between a Referendum and a General Election is that in a Referendum every vote counts but in a (UK) GE most votes do not. Therefore the Referendum is more democratic. I was a Polling Clerk in the 2016 Referendum and lost count of the number people (in a “safe” seat) who said they were voting for the first time for that very reason.

  • Paul Holmes 5th Feb '19 - 2:59pm

    @Michael1 – I have reread my comment carefully and can see no way whatsoever that any of it can be construed as saying we should ban General Elections?

    Indeed the people straying closest to that position are those who repeatedly say that the voters who won in 2016 were variously too dim, couldn’t understand such a complex issue, were taken in by false arguments, were too old (such a crime being old) etc. Because by the logic of that argument all democratic elections are flawed.

    What I said was that the result of a sequence of democratic votes (2015 GE, 2016 Referendum, March 2017 overwhelming Parliamentary vote to initiate Article 50, June 2017 GE, recent votes in the Commons) cannot be viewed as a ‘Constitutional Crisis’ just because those of us who voted Remain have lost at every point.

    Now if there were a new snap GE and variously the Lib Dems or the mirage of a new Centre Party or the Greens stormed to victory on a platform of Remain/Rejoin’ then that too would be a democratic outcome. But it didn’t happen in this previous sequence of votes -and that too is a democratic outcome albeit one that I was on the losing side of.

  • @Paul Holmes

    If you are saying that issues can’t be re-visited that are decided by referendums, it is close to saying that we can’t revisit issues that are decided by general elections. In 1987, people voted for the Conservatives to abolish (exit from?) the rates by the time the poll tax was implemented they decided that they didn’t want it and voted for that (which by then was all the parties) at the next General Election. By your logic if we had voted to abolish domestic rates in a referendum we would have been stuck with the poll tax as we couldn’t have voted to throw it out. For me and I appreciate not you and not everyone May’s Brexit deal is as bad as the poll tax.

  • We have had a constitutional crisis since a majority of MPs decided that voting against their own judgement concerning what was best for the UK was part of their job.

  • Having seen Corbyn’s comments in a speech during the Irish Referendum campaign 2009, in which he comes out as really anti EU, edven calling it an “empire”, there seems little or no prospect of him supporting a Referendum full stop.
    Roll on the new party.

  • Innocent Bystander 5th Feb '19 - 6:29pm

    The parallels with General Election are imbecilic. After a GE a government governs and after the consequences of the people’s decision are known (a few years) they get chance to vote again. What does not happen is a series of ballots before the new government has even formed. A referendum was held decades ago and now the people had a chance to see the consequences they had the chance to vote again. We should follow that principle and vote again after the consequences of this one have emerged. I suggest 20 years from March 2019.

  • John Marriott 5th Feb '19 - 7:03pm

    How many voters read any party’s manifesto from cover to cover? How many voters, when they get their ballot paper, look for the party emblem rather than the name of the candidate?

    We are told that we should vote for a representative (not a delegate). The theory goes that these ‘representatives’ then meet at Westminster to form a government. Of course it doesn’t happen like that.

    General Elections are driven largely at national level by national personalities and by the media. To call them ‘Presidential’ would not be wide of the mark. Am I happy with this state of affairs? Certainly not. Am I a realist? Yes. Can it be changed? It’s doubtful while we cling to FPTP.

  • paul holmes 5th Feb '19 - 7:21pm

    @Michael1 – But of course I say no such thing.

    At the risk of being repetitive – I noted that a GE Manifesto commitment from 2015 was implemented with the holding of the 2016 Referendum, which decision was then voted through Parliament (by about 500 to 50) in March 2017 and confirmed (certainly not rejected) in the 2017 GE and indeed in the very recent Parliamentary votes where there appeared to be no hint of a majority for rejecting Brexit.

    So that’s 2 General Elections, a Referendum and a number of major votes in Parliament all in less than 4 years. The issue has in fact been already been revisited a number of times and as I say above can be again revisted whenever the next GE takes place -and indeed at every GE for generations to come if any Political Party wants to make it a major platform every time. Nowhere at all do I say the issue cannot be revisited. I just note that it is not a constitutional crisis merely because -on a number of votes – the decision has not gone the way I voted (Remain).

  • Keith Sharp 6th Feb '19 - 8:59am

    There are more powerful grounds now than at the time for arguing the 2016 referendum is unsustainable. Pro-Leave organisations broke electoral law; the claims made at the time by Leavers have been shown to be pipedreams/lies. One example: (courtesy of Private Eye) a Leave claim was that Britain would do its own trade ‘deals’ around the world once out of the EU. In 2017, Liam Fox claimed there would be 40 deals waiting for signature the moment we left the EU. Actual number by March 2019? 0. None. Also, whether or not it should have been, the 2016 referendum has been ‘respected’ by Gvt and main opposition for nearly three years — and it has become evident over that time that it is not possible to leave the EU without damaging the livliehoods and living standards of millions of British people. Analysis from the Gvt’s own official agency, the Migration Advisory Committee confirmed late last year that economic migration to and from the EU contributes to and boosts the UK economy. Many factors — notably but not only Ireland — have surfaced in those nearly three years that were never mentioned back in 2016. Reasons enough to argue the 2016 referendum far from being immutable was deeply flawed. Perhaps sadly, the best expression of all this I have read came not from us but from a Labour MP (David Lammy, Tottenham).

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '19 - 10:35am

    Dear me, Mr Holmes, dear me. We could have campaigned for anything we liked in 2014 and would still have lost 13 MEPs. It had nothing whatsoever to do with our EU views and was rather a condemnation of the party in coalition as it was the first national election since the formation of the coalition in 2010.
    We failed to back the EU in successive elections both for the EU and for Westminster for years. A bit like Basil Faulty not talking about the war. “It’s toxic and we’ll lose votes” was the argument. We even told people to vote tactically in Leeds NW IN A PR ELECTION! Well that stupidity has come back to bite us on the bum hasn’t it.

  • paul holmes 6th Feb '19 - 10:45am

    Do you have any evidence that if we had campaigned hard on being EU enthusiasts we would have elected more than the 14 MEP’s we elected using the approach you so bittely oppose? Any evidence that UK voters are in fact avid fans of greater EU integration, Schengen, the Euro? I have never seen any.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thanks for your further reply. Your mistake IMHO is that a referendum is something to be granted by Parliament in their largesse. This is NOT my view. It is a bit like saying that the people of Chesterfield can vote for their local council but after that it will be the people of Sheffield that will vote for Chesterfield Council. If you start deciding issues on Europe by referendum as we have you have to continue (not 650 MPs) – especially when there is, as now, great dissatisfaction on what is happening.

    I think it is also wrong for you to say that Remainers are being anti-democratic or nasty to those that voted Leave. The day after you were elected as an opposition MP you were able to criticise the Government and vote against it without being thought anti-democratic or dishing those that had just voted for it. Indeed we specifically “licence” the role of opposition plays in a democracy – despite most people having voted against it – calling the official opposition party – Her Majesty’s LOYAL opposition .

    The crucial thing and the most brilliant thing is that a democratic society should posses is that of revisiting, revising and changing decisions without being blocked as we now are on Europe. It is said that a plane crossing the Atlantic is continually off-course but it gets there because it corrects its course.

  • Paul Holmes 6th Feb '19 - 1:30pm

    Michael1 – I agree absolutely with most of your second paragraph and the first 2 lines of your final paragraph. Indeed I have now repeated 3 times that this issue has already been revisited a number of times (and we Remainers lost each time) and of course can be again at every General Election for the next century if people so wish. So I really am not sure what your point is?

    I don’t understand your point that ‘we are now being blocked on Europe’. How so? There was a Referendum -we lost. There was the 2017 GE -we lost. There have been various Parliamentary votes -we lost. The only way we have been blocked is that we argued our case each time -and lost. It’s called democracy.

    As for the ‘right of Parliament to grant a Referendum’ – you personally may believe that it does not have that power but the fact is that our ( famously Unwritten Constitution) does give it that power. Presumably you are also against the results of the 1975 Referendum, the Welsh and Scottish Devolution Referendums etc?

    PS – ref your point about the role of the Opposition, in all but two General Elections over the last century over half the voters in fact were opposed to the elected Government but our ridiculous FPTP system ignores that. Indeed on some occasions the principle Opposition Party alone has had more votes than the Governing Party. In a Referendum on the other hand a Majority have to vote the winning side. But either way there is no excuse for some of the intemperate and illiberal attacks that have been made on Leave voters. Democratic opposition does not have to mean contempt, personal insult, scathing language and gloating that opposing elderly voters are dying out. I might expect that on the part of some of our opponents but I expected better of ‘my’ side who supposedly pride themselves on being Liberal, tolerant, rational.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Feb '19 - 1:56pm

    Well said, Michael; we should have called the result out from the beginning. Revisiting it was always going to be challenging. We now depend on the european commission thwarting Theresa May’s endeavours. MPs have been confused on how to deal with a referendum with divided loyalties. We need more of them, referenda that is. The government’s actions since it have been around justifying and then implementing it, both from a shaky platform.

  • John Marriott 6th Feb '19 - 2:01pm

    @Paul Holmes
    I wouldn’t get too upset about comments from people some of whom just enjoy a good argument, while hiding behind a nom de plume. I’ve no idea what their political record is; but those of us in the East Midlands know a bit about yours. I know how much you have achieved in your political career, which puts my own modest efforts to shame.

    I agree with you about the referendum. That’s why I want to give compromise a chance to work something out before we even consider going back to ‘the people’. There is a real danger that those whose only answer, for whatever reason, altruistic or opportunistic, to the current difficulty is a ‘people’s vote’ will miss the opportunity of actually getting a deal that might just honour the 2016 referendum result which, whether many of us like it or not, indicated that more people who voted wanted to leave than those who wanted to remain.

    If, and it’s still a big IF some compromise does emerge I would only hope that the zealots on both sides of the argument would be prepared to move. You see, most people just want it settled and have no strong feelings either way.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thanks for your further reply. You misunderstand I think my point on Parliament. I believe that the people should have the right to call a referendum (through say a petition) – on any constitutional issue – not at the whim of Parliament. The people should set the rules by which we are governed not the politicians.

    Of course at the moment we have to go through the rigmarole of a general election and electing enough MPs to call a referendum OR alternatively for them to change their minds after an election which IS the constitutional “democratic” right of MPs (and which of course NEVER happens after an election does it – um… I won’t mention tuition fees if you don’t!). But I do not call this “revisiting” the issue – although you do.

    I believe that Parliament is treating the people rather like Kings used to treat Parliament. They found it useful to get some legitimacy to get tax rising powers but were wont to suspend it when it disagreed with them. For me, the “Parliament” on the issue of Europe is the “people themselves”. And the opinion polls and OK – they are just opinion polls indicate that they don’t like the deal that Parliament has come up with and prefer Remain. But it seems to me there is enough evidence on the people’s opinion for them to be consulted on it. But they should be even if there wasn’t. And yes if we have another referendum, further referendums should of course be allowed – if we remained I would not want to keep the people in the EU (or out) against their will.

  • @Paul Holmes


    I almost wrote as regards a governing party getting “at least a plurality” of votes – although of course the coalition between the two parties got a majority but the point remains that opposition MPs and others are able to attack the governing party without it being seen as an undemocratic attack on their supporters who “won” the election. Indeed we have a specific procedures to ensure these attacks happen – such as PMQs, parliamentary debates etc.

    As to whether votes by MPs elected by our undemocratic electoral system qualify as “democratic votes” as you say they do – it is a moot point for Lib Dems.

    Any “illiberal” attack on any group is of course by definition bad – certainly for a liberal. But I would suggest that the attacks on Remainers have been just as “illiberal” – branding them as “Remoaners” and saying that they should just shut up and be denied their democratic rights to debate and protest.

    As to Remainers “gloating that opposing elderly voters are dying out” you know full well that this is a complete and utter misrepresentation. Demographic change is a fact of life. And at the moment this is favouring Remain.

  • John Marriott 6th Feb '19 - 3:54pm

    @Michael 1
    Nothing to do with this thread; but how do you get so much stuff published? When I attempt more than a couple of comments I keep getting the ‘flood warning’ and being told not to send anything for x hours. Are the editors trying to tell me something?

  • Peter Watson 6th Feb '19 - 5:07pm

    @John Marriott
    Just be grateful your comments appear; mine didn’t!

  • Paul Holmes 6th Feb '19 - 7:44pm

    Michael – There have in fact been some very distasteful comments made about older voters dying out. I also think that stirring up an ‘Identity Politics’ War between young and old is not something our Party should be taking part in. But then I am pretty much against the Identity Politics trend in general.

    Your personal views on referendums are interesting (but do not invalidate any Referendum legitimately held under our existing Constitutional Law and precedent). But the logic needs some clarifying. How long would it take to get this petition to re-run any given Referendum. If too soon then a controversial Referendum decision could never be implemented (so what would the point be of holding one?). What do the regular Referendum holders, the Swiss and the Californians, do in this regard?

    I can’t agree with you that Lib Dems reject all Parliamentary (and English/Welsh Council) votes as undemocratic. FPTP is a flawed form of democracy (as in different ways are all electoral systems to various degrees) but it is none the less democratic . Certainly more so than relying on picking your opinion poll of choice and ignoring the others.

  • Paul Holmes 6th Feb '19 - 7:57pm

    @John Marriott. I agree with you about anonymous posters and generally avoid replying to their postings whenever possible. Especially one famous LD Voice one who is either a deliberate troll or so outrageous in their genuine views that there is no point even debating with them.

    You have won a lot of elections yourself and I think it tends to mark one difference in tone, against some of those who vociferously assert ‘things’ on social media but don’t actually deal with cross sections of real voters outside the echo chamber.

  • Mike Falchikov 6th Feb '19 - 8:15pm

    In all the comments about referendums, surprised that nobody has raised the question of a majority threshold.
    It can’t be right that a major constitutional issue can be resolved by a majority of 3-4%. Most countries who use referendums fairly regularly for constitutional or other major issued insist on a majority of 10% at least for an issue
    to be won (sometimes as much as 60-40). You would have thought that someone might have told Cameron that
    it required a credible majority, but I suppose as a FPTP-obsessed Tory (” the electoral system which is the envy of the world”)
    he would have accepted a majority of 1 as sufficient either way.

  • John Barrett 6th Feb '19 - 8:34pm

    If holding the referendum in the first place was such a bad idea, as many members and contributors to Lib Dem Voice appear to believe, why is holding another one such a good idea?

    I can remember clearly when Nick Clegg regularly voiced his support for an in/out referendum on the EU. It was not a good idea then, it was not a good idea when David Cameron then ran with it and put it into action and holding another vote now will settle absolutely nothing, if the result is close or does not reach a “credibility threshold” however that might be measured.

    As for attacks on those who voted leave for not understanding what they voted for. I suspect almost nobody reads party manifestos at election times and those manifestos are often not implemented by whatever party is elected.

    Few people, if anyone at all, has read and fully understood the current deals and offerings and many MPs likewise, are as lacking in understanding of the details of many issues when they vote at Westminster. Even those who do understand what they are voting for will more likely vote with their party, rather than go rogue.

    I suspect that the truth is that we all have little idea about what will actually happen in the future whatever the final deal or lack of a deal results. It might be just like the millennium bug, that was set to make our computers crash, aircraft fall from the sky, financial markets go into meltdown and much more. All this was predicted with great certainty and many people working in IT worked long hours earning large sums of money to deal with the bug. in the end it simply did not exist.

    When Parliament cannot agree the way forward and by a large majority decides to let the people have their say. The least they should do is act on that decision.

  • Peter Watson 6th Feb '19 - 9:19pm

    @John Barrett “I can remember clearly when Nick Clegg regularly voiced his support for an in/out referendum on the EU”
    It wasn’t very long ago! In the 2015 General Election the party wanted to go beyond the legislation passed by the Coalition Government and ensure “any referendum triggered by the EU Act is on the big question: In or Out”. Lib Dem support for such a referendum seemed to decline as the likelihood increased of there actually being one!
    It also strikes me that given the demographic changes that have apparently swung the balance towards Remain in the last 2 years, when the Lib Dems were most enthusiastic about an in/out referendum 10 years ago presumably the population was overwhelmingly opposed to membership of the EU. Hmmmm.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Feb '19 - 11:48pm

    Mike Falchikov 6th Feb ’19 – 8:15pm
    “In all the comments about referendums, surprised that nobody has raised the question of a majority threshold. … Most countries who use referendums fairly regularly for constitutional or other major issued insist on a majority of 10% at least for an issue
    to be won (sometimes as much as 60-40).”

    People keep making claims like this (I don’t know where you get the idea nobody’s raised it! It’s come up frequently over the last 31 months…); but nobody has ever produced any evidence for it that I’ve seen. I did once come up with a fairly extensive list of referendums around the world for which it clearly wasn’t true (the best I could do towards proving a negative), but there was no response and I’m not doing it again! Have you got any evidence for your claim, Mike?

  • John Marriott 7th Feb '19 - 4:09pm

    @David Davis
    The view I am about to express may prove profoundly unpopular, especially amongst Liberals. If your only place of residence is not in the U.K. or in one of its dependent territories, why should you be allowed to vote in any election or referendum for that matter, which has anything to do with your country of birth? That might seem harsh; but some might argue that you made your choice to leave these shores. My wife and I did the same in the early 1970s. As residents of first Canada and then West Germany we wouldn’t have ever considered voting in any British elections. However, unlike you, we made the decision to return and have suffered all the slings and arrows that living in the U.K. since 1977 has thrown us.

    Call me a cynic if you like; but I would be immediately suspicious of the motives behind Mr Davies’ Bill. Could we possibly assume that his reckoning might be that the majority of ex pats would probably be conservatives, even with a small ‘c’ and so the main beneficiary of any change in the rules of eligibility would be the Tory party?

    Talking of expats, I gather that many of those who were eligible to vote in the 2016 Referendum through retaining property in the U.K., I assume, actually voted to leave. And now they are worried about how Brexit might effect their status in their adopted country. Amazing!

  • John Marriott 8th Feb '19 - 10:59am

    @David Davis
    You are of course entitled to you opinion as I am mine, which is still the same. The information you quote about the citizens of other EU countries does sound like having your cake and eating it, which doesn’t necessarily invalidate my stance. That could be one of the reasons why many Brits still living here are suspicious of their neighbours. Were we to have another Referendum and if it could be proved that expat votes like yours may have been able to tip the balance in favour of Remain I can imagine that quite a few Leave voters, who unlike you have had to live through this nightmare, would be pretty upset and I would tend to agree with them.

    By the way, I personally only want another referendum if all other avenues have been exhausted. And, yes, I would still vote Remain if there were only a binary choice. Thanks for your offer of help, though.

  • David Evans 8th Feb '19 - 11:52am

    While David Davis correctly quotes liberal and European values, John Marriott is absolutely right and David sadly misguided.

    As John mentions, those who voted for Brexit have been through it all, and won their referendum on the rules agreed. For the losers to argue that there should be a ratifying referendum because more facts have emerged (mainly about the Conservatives total incompetence in delivering anything they said they would in the time available), may be just about acceptable to some Brexiteers. However, changing the basic rules to put more more voters on the register likely to be on our side on the list, would be portrayed (very rightly) as gerrymandering pure and simple. The impact on trust in democracy would be catastrophic.

    Of course to those who simply want to win, and look no further, that might be acceptable. But to someone who believes in democracy, that would be the worst outcome of all.

  • David Evans 8th Feb '19 - 12:10pm

    John Barratt – I agree totally with your conclusions, but your comment that the Millenium Bug simply did not exist is sadly way off the mark. Having worked in technical computer audit in banking for nearly 20 years, I can say, with total confidence that the reason that the millennium bug did not cause significant problems was because as you put it ‘many people working in IT worked long hours earning large sums of money to deal with the bug’.

    They investigated, planned thoroughly, worked hard and found the bug in a substantial number of places and eradicated it before the millennium. That is why it did not cause substantial problems.

    If only Theresa May and the Tories had done likewise regarding Brexit. But competence comes with an understanding of the possibility and consequences of failure, not just a gung ho, charge philosophy. [Sigh]

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thanks for your further points. I wasn’t on LDV for a couple of days so apologies for the delay replying.

    On name-calling: As I pointed out there have been some nasty things said by both sides. But leavers do tend to misinterpret the point made about demographic change.

    On the rules about referendums: One of the problems is that it has grown up in a completely ad hoc way without essentially any rules – whereas there are rules about how often we have general elections. But given we can change laws about every 3 years – they tend to take a year to get into law. I think within three years is reasonable. The point is that we now have if you like two “parliaments” – referendums of the people and the actual one – except referendums are totally at the whim of Parliament just as Parliament itself was at the whim of Kings in the past. I suspect over the next 200 years we will see greater formalisation and understanding between Parliament and the people as expressed in referendums as to their roles and powers. And increased use of referendums and “direct” democracy. Just as we have with Parliament and the monarchy/executive

    On fair votes: Of course I abide by our “constitution”. But I think it fair for a Lib Dem to point out that the Commons would be a very different make up of MPs with far less influence for the ERG and DUP (most likely) .

    An ADDITIONAL point. There has been many times in the past where MPs have changed their minds on their manifesto due to democratic pressure mid-Parliament. A classic example is abolition of the rates and their introduction by the poll tax which was in the Tory manifesto and basically then repealed before a General Election. I therefore wholly see it as within our democratic constitutional practices for the people to exert pressure on their MPs and for those MPs to change their minds. I am sure that your constituents contacted you to ask you to change your mind when you were an MP.

  • Paul Holmes 9th Feb '19 - 12:27pm

    @Michael1. But there surely is the great difference between a single issue Referendum and a General Election.

    In a General Election voters (in constitutional theory at least) vote for a whole package of proposals put forward in a Manifesto which runs to many pages. Even those rare individuals (used to be me!) who read every page cannot possible agree with every single item therein but they vote for an overall package. The winning Party then governs for up to 5 years during which circumstances can change necessitating policy shifts. Or a Governing Party might just say -we were wrong on this particular issue and change their policy.Then, typically, four or five years later -supposedly a full 5 years now – there is another GE and the governing party can be judged by voters on how they have done overall across a wide range of issues rather than one single Manifesto policy out of dozens.

    A single issue Referendum is very different. A very clear single question is asked -should we do this or this. What for example if the Government of the day had said “we refuse to implement the decision to go ahead with Welsh or Scottish Devolution or we are going to give Scotland Independence even though voters rejected it”. What if the Government had said in 1975 we are going to ignore the result of the Referendum and leave the EEC anyway? Would that be acceptable in your view? If it is then there is absolutely no point whatsoever in holding a Referendum. [At which point various people say well I don’t think we should have Referendums at all -but that is irrelevant. We do have Referendums -in full accord with our (unwritten) constitution and the Lib Dems including Nick Clegg did actually campaign for a few years urging that one be held on the ‘In/Out issue’.]

  • Paul Holmes 9th Feb '19 - 12:31pm

    @Michael1: As for your point about MP’s/Governments changing their mind according to democratic pressure -indeed that can happen. I have yet to see though the majority democratic pressure which says ‘ignore and reject the 2016 Referendum decision’.

    In the 2017 GE, called by Theresa May as a ‘Brexit election’ 42% voted Cons (Leave Manifesto) 40% voted Labour (Leave Manifesto) and 3% UKIP. There are indeed some Labour and some Cons MP’s who are arguing against the Leave Manifesto they were elected on in 2017 but -so far -nowhere near enough to actually reject Leave between now and March 29th (the end date that around 500 MP’s out of 650 MP’s voted for in March 2017 with only around 50 actually voting against at that time).

    As for more recent Opinion Polls (which in any case are not the same as actual elections) Prof John Curtice did a detailed analysis of all the polling evidence on 9th Jan. He noted that: 25% wanted to Leave with No Deal; 20% wanted a Referendum on May’s Deal or Remain; 9% a Referendum on May’s deal or Leave with no deal; 15% wanted a better deal to be negotiated and 12% wanted a General Election.

    It seems that the lack of agreement amongst our MP’s simply reflects the views of the electorate?

  • Mike Falchikov 6th Feb ’19 – 8:15pm:
    In all the comments about referendums, surprised that nobody has raised the question of a majority threshold.
    It can’t be right that a major constitutional issue can be resolved by a majority of 3-4%. Most countries who use referendums fairly regularly for constitutional or other major issued insist on a majority of 10% at least for an issue to be won (sometimes as much as 60-40).

    There have been more than forty (40) referendums in and about the EU in various nation states since the formation of the EEC/EC/EU. In every one, the same voting system was used as we used in 2016. The winner was / is the option which secured 50% +1 of the votes cast.

    The Council of Europe has agreed guidelines for conducing referendums which apply to all 47 members including the UK…

    ‘European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission): Code of Good Practice on Referendums’:


    Adopted by the Council for Democratic Elections at its 18th meeting (Venice, 12 October 2006) and the Venice Commission at its 68th plenary session (Venice, 13-14 October 2006)

    III. Specific rules

    7. Quorum

    It is advisable not to provide for:

    a. a turn-out quorum (threshold, minimum percentage), because it assimilates voters who abstain to those who vote no;

    b. an approval quorum (approval by a minimum percentage of registered voters), since it risks involving a difficult political situation if the draft is adopted by a simple majority lower than the necessary threshold.

    For more about this…

    ‘The Questions the People’s Vote Don’t Answer.’:

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thanks for your further points.

    On the opinion polling: In December yougov found that 64% of people backed a referendum to resolve the parliamentary deadlock –

    To be fair it is normally now about level pegging on whether people think there should be a second referendum but it is very dependent on the exact wording.

    Britain Elects tracker has Remain 8% ahead. The last poll with Leave ahead was in April 2018. The remain lead is – longstanding and increasing.

    The yougov tracker shows people overall also think Brexit will be bad for the economy, bad for jobs, and bad for the NHS

    20% approve of the Government’s handling of Brexit, 80% disapprove.

    It is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Leave and May’s deal!!!!

    On democratic pressure mid-parliament. Your original point was that people had voted for parties that proposed not to have a referendum it was anti-democratic to hold another referendum until another general election where a majority of MPs elected had stood on a manifesto advocating a referendum. I was pointing out that it was in the British democratic constitutional conventions for MPs such as the Tories on the poll tax to change their minds in response to democratic pressure.

    But I reject the notion that MPs should be gatekeepers to a referendum.

    But you ignore my point which is that not allowing another referendum is rather like letting a Parliament sit for a while, pass some laws and then abolish it.

    You ask “What if the Government had said in 1975 we are going to ignore the result of the Referendum and leave the EEC anyway?”

    No and it is NOT what I am saying about the 2016 referendum. I am saying that it should be put to another referendum. clearly a referendum stands until it is over-turned by ANOTHER (similar if not identical) referendum.

    Indeed this is the whole point – once you have started out on the track of deciding something by referendum you can’t really then change track and have it decided by general elections.

  • Paul Holmes 9th Feb '19 - 9:06pm

    Michael – I think I am going to end on this one.

    Firstly I have never said what you claim about “when there can or cannot be another Referendum to attempt to cancel out a previous one etc….”. Under our ‘flexible and unwritten’ constitution the Government of the day can to a large extent make the rules up as it goes along, as long as it can get a majority of one in Parliament.

    I simply started by pointing out that we cannot be said to be in a constitutional crisis simply because Remainers (like me) are not getting their way after losing a Referendum, a Parliamentary Vote in March 2017, a General Election in June 2017 and various Parliamentary votes in recent weeks. These were all constitutional procedures and however harmful or daft you or I may believe Leave to be it is in fact the result of a series of democratic and constitutional votes. Then I have gone on to question the logic of your belief that a Referendum result cannot be implemented until another has been held -and so on ad infinitum.

    As for Opinion Polls you can pick the ones that suit and so can Leavers. Some of the poll findings you quote, such as people think May has done a terrible job of negotiating a Deal or that Leaving will cause economic problems, do not automatically transfer into a belief that we should not Leave. Many ardent Leavers think May has done a shocking job -just read Conservative Home everyday to see what I mean – but that does not make them want to Remain, far from it.

    John Curtice is a highly respected independent analyst who looks at all of the Polls. As he pointed out in his Jan 9th review, of the 29% who wanted a Referendum up to that point a third of them wanted Referendum that excluded Remain as an option. He has also pointed out that there has not (as yet) been a major change of view between Leavers and Remainers and the relatively small shift has mainly been a result of people who did not vote at all in 2016 -so why would they ‘next’ time?

  • Andrew Tampion 10th Feb '19 - 8:04am

    I congratulate Paul Holmes on his patience in debating with individuals who decline to publish comments under their real names.
    To expand on one of Mr Holmes points it is a logical fallacy to assume that because some feels that Mrs May is conducting the exit negotiations badly that they would therefore support remaing in the EU (although of course some may). Consider an analogy suppose having left the EU we decide to rejoin. The negotiations are mishandled and the terms of membership are not what the Rejoiners wish. Would they then say this has gone so badly that we should give up the idea of rejoining or would they say lets rejoin even though we don’t like the deal and try to get better terms afterwards? I think the later and see no reason that Leave voters should think any differently.
    As far as the supposed constitutional crisis is concerned the crisis in my opinion is a Parliament that does not reflect the electorate on membership of the EU. If Parliament was split 50 – 50 on the EU as the country is then it would not have agreed to the Maastrich, Lisbon and other treaties and the EU would be much more like the old Common Market that we joined and vwould enjoy much greater support. To pursue a theme I am reliably informed that there is a special place in Hell, immediately adjacent to that reserved for Brexiteers, reserved for Parliamentarians who consent to entering into arrangements with the EU which do not have the consent of a large portion, perhaps a majority, of the electorate that they represent.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thanks for your further points. And I do appreciate that we have done this to death. And we have a disagreement on the role of referendums. And I would suggest that over time the country does need to sort out some of the issues raised in this discussion.

    I would suggest in a spirit of compromise between us – this. There clearly are some democratic issues about having another referendum. Equally I would suggest there are some democratic issues about NOT having a referendum.

    To correct you I am NOT saying “a Referendum result cannot be implemented until another has been held -and so on ad infinitum.”

    I am saying that a referendum result remains implemented (as May’s deal would if it goes through Parliament) until another one changes it. The arrangements on the governance of Scotland have remained in place and it is an issue of on-going public debate and there will almost inevitably be another referendum which will be five questions (including the tax raising question) within fifty years – one every ten years!

    Secondly I would SERIOUSLY question whether there has been, as you say, democratic support for May’s deal. Arguably more people voted for parties at the election – some of which wanted a further referendum, some didn’t but DID want if we were going to exit roughly a “Norway Plus” option in preference to a May’s hard Brexit – the nats, Sinn Fein, Labour, and us. If you add in “People’s Vote” Tories a majority NOT for May in both votes and MPs. My recollection is that May’s deal suffered the biggest EVER defeat for a Government proposal in Parliamentary HISTORY.

    And the people don’t want it either as they have been saying in increasing numbers since April 2018 in the opinion polls.

    And as to what is “democratically” within the norms as you say Parliament can do what it likes and MPs face the electoral consequences (democratically!) at the ballot box..

  • @Paul Holmes


    On opinion polls. There are opinion polls that show that people want a referendum – and with respect you picked your poll. I think it worth quoting John Curtice who said “there are signs that perhaps some Leave supporters could be persuaded to support another ballot…” which is positive for my side but goes on to say: “if it were to be portrayed as a chance for voters to decide the fate of the government’s Brexit deal” which is may be less so!

    A “people vote” or “final say” has support a “second referendum” doesn’t. But clearly many leavers have got what they want and they might not if there is a referendum. For me as for Farage “48-52” is unfinished business.

    On the substantive point of Leave versus Remain. Clearly there hasn’t been much change but even without demographic change there only needs to be a small change to change the result – some 4% of Leavers (96% staying the same). My reading of the polls is that it is more than that. As to people not voting I think the “youthquake” in the 2017 General Election (which DID happen certainly to a degree) shows people have woken up to the fact that if they don’t vote then there voice doesn’t count.

  • Paul Holmes 10th Feb '19 - 7:07pm

    @Michael1 -I give in to temptation since it is a brand new point!

    Was there really a ‘youthquake’ in June 2017? There was much talk of it at the time but later research showed only a small increase in 18-25 year olds voting. There was a big difference in how 18-25 year olds voted, with Corbyn (and his Leave Manifesto!) being the main beneficiary, but that is not the same as a ‘youthquake’ in turnout.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nom de Plume
    Smoking tobacco is an evil that needs to be removed. Personal choice does not come into it. Well done to those brave enough to vote for the Bill....
  • Katharine Pindar
    David Symonds: absolutely agree, David, that we must oppose the idea of a 'sick-note culture' and forcing unwell people into work. Poverty and bad insecure hous...
  • Katharine Pindar
    Fiona and David LG: yes, for young people we need to have policies that give them hope for the future, whether more emphasis on our environment, encouraging bus...
  • Alan Jelfs
    The best thing we can do for young people is to reduce the National Debt by increasing taxation on the property-owning, land-owning wealthy....
  • James Moore
    I'd recommend people read Isaiah Berlin's famous lecture 'Two concepts of Liberty' alongside Mill. Berlin argues that the 'harm principle' and 'positive libert...