The 3 Arguments I wish Remainers would stop making (and I’m a Remainer!)

We may not have got much credit for it in the polls, but the growth of the People’s Vote Campaign is a Lib Dem success story. Our policy broke into the mainstream, caused a march of 700,000 people, and gained supporters from every major Party (other than UKIP, that would be weird.)

The reason for the growing popularity of the People’s Vote is because – I believe – the central argument for it is compelling, and goes something like this:

Britain voted for a departure but not a destination. We now have a much clearer idea of what Brexit would look like, and given this additional clarity, we should get the final say on if we want to proceed.

That’s the message we must continue to hammer home, relentlessly, to make our case.

What bothers me is the fact that too often people seem to prefer using bad arguments against Brexit rather than the good one. With that in mind, these are the top three things I wish proud remainers like you and I would stop saying, because I fear it is harmful for the cause.

1. “Lots of the old people who voted for Brexit are now dead”

I have seen this argument surfacing a lot over the last year or so, and it was recently directly put to Jacob Rees-Mogg by Sky News as a reason why the EU referendum is somehow invalid.

First off, I find the way age so often gets pitted against youth at the moment deeply uncomfortable. Not every ‘old’ person voted for Brexit, and those that did had every right to have their say – it’s their country to.

But more to the point, every democratic exercise is a moment in time, and it is simply ludicrous to suggest that a result should be retrospectively changed every time somebody dies. Was the 2010 Election suddenly invalid a couple years later because people had died since then too?

No democratic choice should be everlasting or irreversible, and that’s a point we should continue to make, but not because people snuff it. We can do better than that.

2. “Only 27% of the population voted for Brexit. It’s not the will of the people!”

It is true of course that the total percentage of the UK population who voted for Brexit is 27%, when you factor in those who were not eligible to vote or chose not to. But this is a disingenuous use of stats.

Yes only 27% voted to leave but even fewer voted to remain (less than a quarter of us!) So if Brexit is not the will of the people, the same logic dictates that remaining certainly isn’t, and would be an even more unjustified course of action! In short, 27% voting to leave in no way means that 73% support remain (oh if only.)

3. “Referendums are just a stupid way to decide things.”

I totally agree. Referendums are a stupid way to decide policy, especially when the policy is a nuanced, complex, and non-binary choice. I wish Cameron had never called the bloody thing and that we lived in a parallel path of the Black Mirror multiverse where none of this had ever happened.

Problem is it did though, and once people have been asked for their say, overruling them on the grounds that referendums are dumb just comes across as disingenuous. This line of argument gets especially tricky when we then advocate for another referendum ourselves. If referendums are such a bad thing why call for more of them?

As with any movement, we have to be self-critical. Our opponents love to think of us as bitter losers just clutching at straws. Let’s not give them any excuse to make that claim.

Viva la People’s Vote!

* Jon is a political consultant for the public affairs agency Field Consulting, based in London. He joined the Lib Dems after Brexit and wants a People’s Vote.

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48 Comments

  • Michael Blackmore 28th Jan '19 - 5:03pm

    The main argument that seems to me to be fatally flawed is that ” we didn’t know what we were voting for and now we know much more etc”

    Actually neither side knew and don’t now.

    1. It was made clear that if we left the EU we would leave the Customs Union and the Single Market. It was not hard to find out what this meant.

    2. The outcome of the final trade agreement is still unknown and will be for a while yet

    3. If we stay in the future is still very uncertain. The EU will not be static and the continuation of the trends either established or declared by the Eurocrats will be to create many changes which are not likely to be good for the UK

    Thus in the end either option would lead to an uncertain future for UK. The trick was to make a judgement as to which option was most likely to benefit UK in the end.

    To me it was clearly to leave as I believe the EU may well collapse in the next 5 years, the euro is even more likely to do this. It’s better to leave before the ship sinks and we miss out on the lifeboats.

  • Global capitalism has done more for society and the world as a whole than any other system. Nations are being lifted out of poverty due to globalisation, offshoring and free trade. We must aggressively stand up for it, rather than resort to either Corbynism or UKIP Strasserism.

  • John Marriott 28th Jan '19 - 6:19pm

    “Only 27% of the population voted for Brexit”. I thought that was the percentage who didn’t vote at all. I was led to believe that around 37% voted for Brexit, hardly a majority of the adult population as a whole nor the ‘will of the people’.

  • Paul Holmes 28th Jan '19 - 6:26pm

    @Jon Andrew -As a fellow Remainer (in 1975 and in 2016) I agree absolutely with your 3 points. I would add a fourth -the disgraceful argument that all ‘older’ people who voted Leave are ‘Empire fantasists and closet (or not so closet) racists’ and/or who are engaged in a an ‘ageist war’ against the young. The people deploying these lines of attack do themselves -and the Remainer cause no favours at all.

    @Martin – Surely your disenfranchised young people and overseas residents arguments would therefore invalidate every election? The first EEC Referendum in 1975? The Scottish and Welsh Devolution Referendums? The Scottish Independence Referendum? Every General Election? Just as the ‘Leavers didn’t know what they were voting’ for invalidates all democratic elections?

  • Paul Holmes 28th Jan '19 - 6:32pm

    @ John Marriott – but if the % of non voters invalidates the 2016 Referendum result then it also invalidates more or less every democratic election?

    38% of Americans didn’t vote in Obama’s 2008 Presidential win (which saw one of the highest turnouts in US history!) Roughly the same figure did not vote in our 2001 General Election. Typically 30% do not vote in General Elections and 60% don’t vote in Local Elections.

  • OnceALibDem 28th Jan '19 - 8:07pm

    “We may not have got much credit for it in the polls, but the growth of the People’s Vote Campaign is a Lib Dem success story.”

    Is it? This is the campaign where activists were told not to use the phrase “People’s Vote”

    The belief that because there is support for something the LIb Dems want will result in support for the party is a flawed and damaging one.

  • @Michael Blackmore

    I was looking at a programme about the Mary Celeste the other day. Apparently you should only abandon ship when you have to climb upwards to do so. Perhaps if your prediction were to become true, and the EU were to “collapse in the next 5 years” it would only do so because the energetic and sagacious British sailor has shamefully deserted it. I feel the best nautical parallel for Brexit is the mutiny on the Bounty. Great Britain is so called to distinguish it from Brittany – Bretagne and Grande Bretagne. In the event of brexit it should change its name to Great Pitcairn.

  • John Marriott 28th Jan '19 - 9:17pm

    @Paul Holmes
    Far be it for me to argue with an electoral legend like yourself. However, was the 2016 Referendum an ‘election’ per se or rather a glorified opinion poll? What I get fed up with hearing is that “the majority of the electorate voted to leave” and that therefore this is “the will of the people”. That is patently not the case.

    I would never dream of arguing that there was not at least nearly two years ago a small but significant majority of those that voted in favour of leaving the EU for whatever reason just as I would never argue that those who didn’t vote at all were all really remainers with no really strong views.

    You quote the USA of whose electoral system, judging from what you wrote in another thread, you have considerable first hand experience. Well, how come quite a few presidential candidates who have in the past won the most votes have failed to make it to the White House? Of course I know the answer and it’s down to the Electoral College, which is as arcane as many of the political institutions on these islands. I quote the figures I do to support my view that, instead of another binary choice a more nuanced solution might put the matter to bed for a while, or am I being too naive?

  • Paul Holmes 28th Jan '19 - 9:51pm

    Martin, resort to insult if you like. Personally I would rather you dealt with the serious point raised. If those under 18 not being able to vote in the 2016 Referendum invalidates it in your eyes, then surely it also invalidates all other UK Referendums and elections where they cannot vote too?
    How about those under 18 in 2010 who couldn’t vote in the General Election on issues such as whether introducing the highest Tuition Fees in the Western World (outside of some very exclusive private US Universities) would be ‘good for them or not’?
    You can’t pick and choose as to which votes are valid and which are not, surely there has to be some logical consistency?

    As for overseas residents right to vote surely the usual rule applied -that of a 15 year limit?

  • Sean Hyland 28th Jan '19 - 9:59pm

    Approx 30% of self identified Lib Dem voters chose to vote Leave in the referendum – so maybe Jenny Barnes has a point.

    As a Leave voter I feel a second vote/peoples vote is a democratic thing to call for. Please can we have some better campaigning from both sides this time.

  • John – The Government in 2016 wrote to every household and said they would implement the decision, Leave or Remain, whichever it was. So not really just an opinion poll?

    Since then a lot of people have said there should never have been a referendum, there should have been a two thirds or a 75% majority needed on such a major issue, there should have been this, there shouldn’t have been that. But no one can rewrite history, unless you have a Tardis?

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th Jan '19 - 10:47pm

    @ Paul Holmes,
    If one is looking for logical consistency, the Liberal Democrat Party is not for you.

    It is a sad reality that I have had to face. As a pluralist, I would like to see a strong and effective Liberal Democrat Party., but when I read some of the posts on here, which I have since I misguidedly voted for the Liberal Democrats up to and including 2010, I have to accept that this is a triumph of hope over experience.

    All the people fo Chesterfield and the like, may not have an Oxbridge education but they aren’t daft.

  • Jayne -If you are looking for total logical consistency then there is no Party to vote for unless you create one of your own and restrict it’s membership to one -and even that assumes that ‘you’ are always logically consistent!.

    Democratic politics and democratic political parties will always be about compromise and the art of the possible. But I still prefer as much intellectual rigour and logical consistency as possible. As for the Liberal Democrats, there is no other Party on offer that I could conceivably vote for – but that is a less enthusiastic endorsement than I used to give.

  • Martin. I am taking offence at you labelling 2 different people/their arguments as obtuse in the thread above.
    Back to my question -what would you say to an 18 year old in 2011/12 facing the highest Tuition Fees in the Western World but not having been able to vote in the 2010 election. Does that invalidate the 2010 GE? Or are you only applying your ‘ruling’ to the 2016 Referendum and not to any other election or Referendum? Or what of the Scottish Independence Referendum? There 16 year olds could vote -but 15 year olds couldn’t so did that invalidate the result and are you campaigning hard for a second referendum in Scotland? What of the Welsh Devolution Referendum which was won by an even smaller majority than the 2016 EU one -should it have been rerun two years later to allow all the 18/19 year olds to exercise the vote they didn’t have first time around? And then again 2 years later for the new crop of 18/19 year olds? And then again………etc?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jan '19 - 11:48pm

    I think Jon Andrew a very intelligent decent fellow welcome here talking sense.

    I was once upon a time to the right of Paul Holmes, back in the day when he was against centre voices in the party advocating things he did not agree with, his tone was too anti change for me, the left of this party, as in the farther left of Labour, seemed to think left equals radical, when the left are often afraid of change more than the right. Nostalgia for the old days was never radicalism, nor is it now. Actually, those in the moderate common sense centre ground or centre left like me, are now aware in these debates today, Paul is a vice of reason.

    I really would like to say that of Jayne. Unfortunately to insult this party nearly every day and especially to say this party is too broad or inconsistent, when she puts up with or likes a party with a serious problem with antisemitism and one which life long supporters like Nick Hewer , or Alan Sugar cannot support, or Rachel Riley, abused by supporters of the leader , while containing those who are to the left of far left and the right of this party as well, cannot be said to be quite with the mainstream on here.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jan '19 - 11:52pm

    Sorry Paul, voice, not, vice, of reason, and sorry to Jayne if she mistakes my criticism as a reason to be against her support for Labour party policies, no, only for only denigrating this party, never that one, when this site is Liberal Democrat voice, for Liberal Democrat voices…

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan '19 - 12:04am

    @ Martin,
    Regretfully, I have to disagree with you.

    The people who voted in the EU election, some who had never voted before, have seen the claims, ‘we respect the vote’, from those who clearly don’t.

    They see politicians who promised that the referendum vote would be a once in a life time decision, and then according to some politicians and activists, claim that it wasn’t.

    And for me, personally, someone who thought that your party was for me, the ‘we trust in the people’, which when it comes to every vote being of equal worth you clearly don’t.

    As for the electorate, I suspect that in any future election, the question will be, who is the least dishonest of the bunch.

  • “Britain voted for a departure but not a destination. We now have a much clearer idea of what Brexit would look like, and given this additional clarity, we should get the final say on if we want to proceed.”

    I would add some crucial words – “And if so, how”!

    When Leavers say “Tell them again” we should point out that nobody did enough telling the first time around. If we Leave, we now face a choice between May’s Deal and No Deal. Nobody made a choice in 2016 to sign up to an Irish backstop. Nobody chose in 2016 to Leave in chaos, huge trade disruption, and food shortages, either. Leavers surely want to choose between these alternatives now – don’t they? Or would they prefer somebody else to decide for them, so that they can then blame the decision makers for all the ensuing problems?

    The biggest supporters of a People’s Vote should be responsible Leavers, who should be determined to choose which kind of Leave they want. If they’re not clamouring for that choice, then they are not being responsible. Irresponsible voters do not deserve to get their wishes granted.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan '19 - 12:16am

    @ Paul Holmes,
    Despite my good degree, I make no claims to logical consistency. I am a creature of the emotions.

    My values are mine alone. If you think that the party you support shares yours, fair enough. It betrayed mine.

  • David Evershed 29th Jan '19 - 12:51am

    Would we be calling for a people’s Vote now if Remain had won the last one?

    If not why not?

  • The biggest myths about the Leave vote is that it was not about the EU, that they all wanted a personal Brexit and that they have been “left behind” by economic/globalism liberalism. The reality is they are more likely to own their on home and more likely to have benefited from the social policies and cohesion of nation states. They are as a result markedly more pro Nation State Meanwhile the young far from benefitting from increased opportunities have been lumbered with huge personal debt, priced out of the housing market and face a future of decreased social support. High levels of immigration to locations of temp work are not the result of greater freedom but of instability, poor wages and economic hardship at home. In other words pretty much the same harsh conditions that lead to the introduction of socialistic welfare systems in the early 20th century and the mass exodus of people in the same era have been replicated in the late 20th and early 21st century.

  • Glenn,
    Your own personal Brexit isn’t a myth, you only have to look at the few Brexiteers who post here, each as their own personal Brexit why one doesn’t even have a personal Brexit they have a Lexit. In your case your personal Brexit changes by the day, consistent you are not, today your personal Brexit seems to be “I’m alright Jack” . You brag that older people are better of and have done well, just a quick question then if they have done so well how come the economy and political system they have left is inflicted such harm onto the younger generation. Why did you not fix it for them, is Brexit your way of trying to make amends for the failure of the older generation to make things better for our children?

  • Arnold Kiel 29th Jan '19 - 7:50am

    I agree that these three arguments do not support the invalidity of the 2016 referendum. But that is not what they are being used for. They can be used to argue for a double-check of an irreversible jump from a known status quo into an uncertain future about which we just know one thing: It will not be as promised in 2016.

  • @Jenny Barnes – “So whether or not GC is wonderful – we don’t get a choice.”

    Well, sort of. We obviously don’t vote on a global scale, but various nation states have at various times voted for anti-capitalist socialist or communist parties. It usually doesn’t end well.

    I can’t think of any country that has operated a hard socialist or communist system over an extended period of time and made a success of it.

    There are however countries that do a better job than us of managing capitalist economies, ensuring the benefits are shared more equally than in the UK, and limiting inequality. It can be done if you find a way of stopping the ultra-rich gaming the system in their favour.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jan '19 - 10:11am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “It will not be as promised in 2016.”

    Neither did it turn out as promised in 1975!

    Did the supporters, both in the UK and elsewhere, of then EEC deliberately downplay just what they had in mind for the future development of Europe? I pretty sure they did.

    The intention was to ‘sell’ the EEC as a collection of freely trading but independent states, and which would still probably command a large majority, but at the same time to work behind the scenes, and in a totally undemocratic manner, to create a single European state.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan '19 - 10:57am

    @ Lorenzo Cherin,

    Lorenzo, I am a liberal, I am a democrat and I have a voice.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jan '19 - 11:37am

    Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan ’19 – 12:04am
    Please consider also the 2014 referendum in Scotland. As with the 1975 referendum in the UK a variety of voices said that it was of historical importance, looking backwards in time. It did set a precedent for votes at 16. There was also a large quantity of high quality information available to the electorate, which was not the case in 2016.
    After 2014 the SNP and any allies intend to try again when they judge the time is ripe.
    On polling day in 2016 UKIP leader Nigel Farage promised to continue trying to overturn the result he expected.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan '19 - 12:55pm

    @ Richard Underhill.

    Let me make this clear, I voted remain and I would vote remain in any other election or referendum. I have children who are deeply concerned about the effect of Brexit on medicine, the pharmaceutical industry , science and financial services. I share their concerns. And contrary to the message promoted on here that old people are selfish, I actually believe that older people who voted leave were equally concerned about the future of their offspring if we remained in the EU. I believe they were misled and rather than vilifying them for their vote it would have been better to explain in what way they had been misled.

    What has most concerned me has been the way a peoples vote was touted after we had just had a peoples vote. The idea that it was about a destination was dishonest. It was a strategy for overturning the vote in 2016. A little honesty might have made a difference.

    As for the, Nigel Farage would have done this. Nigel Farage is a man who has never been elected to Parliament despite his many attempts. I wouldn’t use his behaviour as a model.

    The issue for me is one of trust. Something that Mr Farage and his ilk have successfully , with the help of our parliamentarians themselves, undermined.

    I really don’t know how one can rebuilt trust whatever the outcome of any parliamentary decision, ( and the confusion of our parliamentarians on the best way to get ourselves out of this chaotic mess is reflected in the views of the electorate who themselves remain divided and confused).

    On your point of voting at 16 yrs of age. I am something of a traditionalist. Many sixteen year olds are going through their own personal chaos of adolescence. My own experience has been that they most want guidance and support from people that they can trust.

    You mention a high quality of information available to the electorate, but the availability does not mean that they have or will avail themselves of it. I don’t know how many people you speak to in your daily life, but have you any idea how many people can explain what a ‘backstop’ is?

    If our parliamentarians vote in favour of another referendum, I accept that. I am not sure in the current state of turmoil, there will be the numbers who would vote for that, nor that there will be the numbers for a clear remain vote if one did take place.

  • Frankie
    I just don’t support the concept of the EU and think the idea that it has given youngsters huge opportunities rings hollow. I have no need to make amends for anything. To be honest I think the EU uses youthful idealism like advertisers do, to create an image of bright forward momentum. My argument is that it is not actually anymore progressive or good for you than a pair of trainers or a soft drink.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jan '19 - 5:48pm

    @ Glenn,

    You make a couple of very good points with:

    “Meanwhile the young far from benefitting from increased opportunities have been lumbered with huge personal debt, priced out of the housing market and face a future of decreased social support.”

    ” the idea that it has given youngsters huge opportunities rings hollow.”

    The above discussion is about UK youngsters of course. How well in the EU doing for youngsters in other parts of the EU?

    Youth unemployment rate in Greece: 43.2%

    Youth unemployment rate in Italy: 31.9%

    Youth unemployment rate in Spain: 33.8%

    And the argument is that we shouldn’t leave the EU because we can always rely on the EU to give a good deal to our young people?

  • John Marriott 29th Jan '19 - 7:13pm

    Come on now, my four grandchildren, aged from 2 to 6 are more interested in Bing, Peppa Pig and Lego at the moment. Don’t drag them into the argument in order to try to lower that 27%! I’d rather concentrate on the 37%.

  • @Peter Martin –
    “Neither did it turn out as promised in 1975!
    Did the supporters, both in the UK and elsewhere, of then EEC deliberately downplay just what they had in mind for the future development of Europe?”

    Downplaying is very different to telling outright lies. Also, remember the Maastricht Treaty effectively killed the EEC, replacing it with the EU and Single Market – something the UK wanted… So was the EEC in the early 1990’s so vastly different to what was promised in 1975? Also, given the EU/SM was first mooted in the mid-1980’s, I don’t see how people campaigning in 1975 could have foreseen this development. From what I saw the issue was more about under delivery of what was promised, hence one of the reasons why Thatcher pushed so hard for the Single Market.

    Hence the issue/cause of the 2016 referendum was, fundamentally the lack of consultation/referendum over the Maastricht and subsequent Lisbon Treaties; which was something wholly within the control of Westminster…

    @David Evershed –
    “Would we be calling for a people’s Vote now if Remain had won the last one?
    If not why not?”

    Well, assuming the result was within Farage’s “unfinished business” boundaries, there would be no reason for the LibDems to be calling for a people’s vote. Additionally, I would have expected any calls for a second vote to be brushed aside, because firstly the Cons/Lab/LibDem had previously committed to no further transfer of power/sovereignty without a referendum/people’s vote (someting I would expect they would be held to), and secondly because the UK would then be involved in the discussions that are scheduled to begin later this year into the EU’s future – so there would be no point in having a people’s vote before those discussions had completed.

    Basically, there was no real need to hold the referendum in 2016, it was obvious it should have been delayed until after 2020 when the next stage in the evolution of the EU was known. So we are in the current mess because of the Conservative party…

  • @Jenny Barnes – “You could argue that the Leave vote was in part due to disappointment with the performance of LDs in government.”
    You could, but to do so would be to ignore the polls conducted around the 2015 GE which showed that people wanted more coalition; however, there was no coalition option on the ballot paper…

  • Michael Hall 2nd Feb '19 - 11:12am

    My view is that the call for a second referendum suggests that Brexit is a viable option, when it seems to me, it is not. There are deep seated problems blocking the path to Brexit. The Good Friday Agreement, the pledge not to have a hard border within the island of Ireland, and the refusal of the EU (quite rightly) to allow the backstop to be made dispensible, when it is necessary in the absence of the mythical “technological solution” to border control. The Republic of Ireland will not accept a hard border, and if there is no customs union, and there are therefore tariffs to be collected at the border, how can there be no hard border?
    At the moment border security in these islands (the UK and Ireland) does not prevent the free movement of EU workers, but passports still have to be shown at ports and airports (even for internal flights). This will not change, but immigrants from the EU will be able to get into Northern Ireland easily, even if it is illegal. It will still be possible to control them if they try to get into the rest of the UK. Nevertheless, not having a hard border means there is a problem with the free movement of workers from the EU. Northern Ireland will not be protected from the free movement of workers. The main objective of people who voted for Brexit (stopping free movement) cannot be achieved without a hard border. Border security (against terrorism etc) would not necessarily be any worse than it is now, but as members of the EU we are better able to ensure that the EU implements appropriate security measures. This will be more difficult if we are not members.
    Therefore, instead of holding a second referendum, the Government should just tell people Brexit is not possible, and revoke Article 50, if Parliament will not accept the Prime Minister’s deal. A no-deal Brexit has already been ruled out and it would solve nothing. It would not be possible to negotiate trade deals as the Brexiteers promised, since on WTO terms a trade deal with the EU would mean we must allow free trade to the UK from the rest of the world, but this would not stop the rest of the world imposing tariff barriers against our exports.

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