The Observer agrees with us on a referendum on the Brexit deal

Well, well! The Observer has started agreeing with us again. Here’s what it had to say on this coming week’s Article 50 Bill amendments:

Any MP planning to vote against the amendments to the bill that seek to ensure this – whether or not they supported Brexit – should reflect long and hard on precisely what they think parliament is for, if not to scrutinise the government on this most momentous of decisions. Second, the British people must have the opportunity to accept or reject the deal negotiated by the government. The referendum result provided a democratic mandate for Britain to leave the EU; it did not give permission to the prime minister to negotiate any deal she sees fit.

Voters may choose to ratify the government’s deal in a second referendum or, faced with a concrete set of terms for Britain’s exit, they may choose to reject the deal and deliver a mandate for the government to seek to try to remain in the EU. But the final say should rest with them.

As the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has so eloquently argued in the past, leaving the EU is a process that requires two referendums. There are no legitimate grounds on which to oppose this additional layer of democracy. If parliament passes the bill without democratic safeguards, it would effectively be writing the prime minister, who has not even won an election, a blank cheque.

If y9o agree that the British people deserve a say, sign this petition here.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • “There are no legitimate grounds on which to oppose this additional layer of democracy.”

    There are no legitimate grounds on which to support a second referendum in which “leave with no deal” is not even offered as an option. Large numbers of people clearly want that and they were on the winning side last June. To deny them that as an option would bring our entire democratic system into disrepute which a huge section of the population – and for that reason, the Lib Dem plan is deeply wrong.

    If the Lib Dems were suggesting some kind of AV vote in which “leave with no deal”, “leave on the negotiated terms”, and “call the whole thing off and stay in the EU” were given as options (at the minimum) they might be on to something. The current plan doesn’t hold water.

  • John Barrett 5th Feb '17 - 11:57pm

    Stuart – As you say, if the decision in the referendum is the first question, and the answer to that question was to leave the EU. The next question should effectively be, “Deal or no deal?” for when we leave.

    If the party wants to rule out leaving with no deal, it needs to clarify why not.

    As Stuart says, “If the Lib Dems were suggesting some kind of AV vote in which “leave with no deal”, “leave on the negotiated terms”, and “call the whole thing off and stay in the EU” were given as options (at the minimum) they might be on to something. The current plan doesn’t hold water.”

    Those who have read my previous comments will not be surprised if once again I compare the EU and Scottish referendums.

    Can anyone imagine the Scottish government, having won a referendum on independence, then negotiating a separation deal from the UK and going back to the electorate to ask if they like the deal. And if the public did not like what had been negotiated, then saying that the original referendum result did not stand?

    It is like a couple making the decision to divorce, then discussing the split of everything from who gets the cat to the CD collection. If there is no agreement over the cat, they will not call off the divorce. The result of the decision would still stand, but the details might also not suit those who made that decision.

    It is clear that the decision to push for a second referendum, without the option of leaving with no deal, is nothing more than attempt to reverse the decision of last June.

    If this is the case those supporting it should be honest enough to say so.

  • When the only obstacle was an “advisory” referendum some in the remain camp wanted parliament to have a say. Now parliament has had a say they want another referendum. If that didn’t go the right way they would then claim it was “advisory” and want parliament to have a say. But it’s just a harmless flight of fancy floating in the ether of lost causes and it isn’t going to happen.

  • Mark Goodrich 6th Feb '17 - 1:49am

    In response to the comments above, trying to organise a three option referendum clearly won’t work. And it would be somewhat bizarre to organise in an AV way since the British public rejected that voting system much more firmly than they reject the EU.

    In reality, it is up to the government to negotiate a deal and then put it to the people in a referendum. That could even be “no deal” if they can’t negotiate anything better. The whole idea of three options is a complete red herring since the government would only be putting forward a “deal” if it was better than “no deal”.

    It is also misleading to describe it as a simply an attempt to overturn the referendum of last year. Whether you like it or not, millions of Remainers think that the electorate was sold a lot of misleading rubbish about what was possible and want to see the actual option (whether that is no deal / very hard Brexit or a slightly softer deal) put to the electorate once there is reality rather than fantasy. If Remain lost again as Brexiters confidently predict, we would at least feel we lost on the reality rather than the fantasy and there would be an acceptance of the vote which currently doesn’t exit.

    If the Prime Minister was serious about “uniting the country”, this is what she would offer. If Corbyn was a decent leader, he would see that this is also a way to unite the Labour party.

  • Mark Goodrich 6th Feb '17 - 5:02am

    And Glenn, this isn’t some new idea hatched up by Remainers following the parliamentary vote. I first proposed it here back on Saturday 25 June….just two days after the result. Far from a perfect piece of writing but central arguments on what would happen have turned out accurate and I was both surprised and happy that the referendum on the deal became official Lib Dem policy. And now Observer policy as well.

  • Freeborn John 6th Feb '17 - 6:38am

    Extra, extra, read all about it… Observer agrees with LibDem … go back to your constituencies and prepare for power.

  • Andrew Tampion 6th Feb '17 - 6:40am

    Mark if you think that a “confirmatory” referendum that could reverse the outcome of the referendum of the 23 June is not an attempt to overturn the EU referendum result then you are mistaken. The fact that the Remain campaign was unable to refute what you consider to be lies does not given you the right to a re-vote unless the rules referendum were broken. In any case as a Remain voter I could say that I want a re-vote because I was lied to about an immediate economic crash following a leave vote given that that didn’t happen and the Bank of England has just revise it forecast up again.
    Also while the “confirmatory” referendum is not as you rightly say something dreamed up after the Parliamentary vote it is as your post admits something proposed after the result was known and for that reason unacceptable to me and I believe to many other Remain voters.

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Feb '17 - 7:49am

    Let’s pretend that ‘Leave’ was indeed a good idea.

    However, what should happen if along the way even those in favour of this course of action were to develop concerns that there could be negatives that outweighed the positives of their previous position?

    Blunder on regardless?

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Feb '17 - 9:06am

    Mark Goodrich – ‘ Whether you like it or not, millions of Remainers think that the electorate was sold a lot of misleading rubbish about what was possible.’

    So if at a future date millions of Leavers take the view that the EU was a false prospectus we have another referendum? Where for example do we all claim our £4,300?

    The basic problem with a further referendum is that all it would do is open the door to referendum 3, 4 and so on. I’ve not seen any proposal of any sort that gets around that basic problem. A neverendum is the worst of all worlds. I can understand the political appeal to some of a second referendum, but it’s hopelessly short-term thinking.

    And to be brutal if as much thought had been put into how to improve the way the UK works within the EU as has been put into how to duck the referendum result we might not be in this spot.

  • Duncan Brack 6th Feb '17 - 9:39am

    John Bennett – why do you think that Brexit isn’t ‘domestic politics’? Can you name any significant area of domestic politics – including health and environmental policy, which you mention – which will not be affected by Brexit?

  • While I appreciate the concept of the AV referendum, I should point out we wouldn’t be discussing leaving at all he we held an AV referendum back in June.

    Had the electorate had the current government option of: the “hardest of hard Brexits” with no possibility of a soft EFTA/EEA Brexit, not a penny extra for the NHS when we leave and no efforts whatsoever since the referendum – in which all the Leave leaders were “deeply concerned” about immigration – to stop the tens of thousands of (non-EU) immigrants that have continued to arrive, then without a doubt the current Leave option being pursued by the government would have lost and lost very heavily at that.

  • Things are obviously happening at the Observer. Yesterday Stewart Lee (with comments about Labour almost unrepeatable) said he was joining the Lib Dems. Is this for real or was he offering more satire?

  • David Evershed 6th Feb '17 - 11:18am

    The first referendum has determined that we will leave the EU.

    Any second referendum would be a choice between:

    a) leaving on the government’s negotiated terms or
    b) leaving on World Trade Organisation terms

  • ‘Events dear boy, events’
    ‘No battle plan survives the fist contact with the enemy’.
    What is wrong with having a back door in this process, just in case ‘events’ happen in unexpected, or expected, ways.
    I think all parties might like the idea. Whisper it quietly.

  • Andrew McCaig 6th Feb '17 - 11:53am

    John Barrett,

    Your divorce analogy does not help your argument. Until the decree absolute is signed, the divorce process is easily reversed and this happens fairly often once people realise how much hassle and expense is involved.

    This is exactly what another referendum would do: give people the chance to change their mind over a decision that will affect all Britons for generations. Or if they are happy with the deal May gets, they can vote to Leave and we will be gone.

    Yes, of course this is an attempt to reverse the referendum result, but an entirely democratic attempt. Given the political arithmetic it is very unlikely to happen UNLESS their is a groundswell of opinion in favour of Remain. No-one knows if that will happen but I hope our Party will campaign for it. However if it is clear that in two years time that people have changed their minds and 60% plus now want Remain, would it really be “democratic” for May to pull us out???

    Of course no-one knows what the response of the rest of the EU would be to a request to reverse Article 50, but I would be very surprised if it was unfavourable, or if they insisted on different terms from the current ones (they might well offer better ones…). The EU will undoubtedly be weaker without us in it, just as we we will be weaker outside.

  • Andrew McCaig 6th Feb '17 - 11:57am

    BTW if people are really worried about Neverendums, it would be perfectly possible to put in the question a preamble saying “no more referendums on EU membership for 10 years”, or whatever. But if the Leave vote were confirmed I cannot see another referendum on Europe happening in my lifetime (I am 59….)

  • Nick Collins 6th Feb '17 - 3:23pm

    We live, or used to live, in a representative democracy. Referenda do not fit very well within such a system. So, last week, we were treated to the farce of MPs having to choose between voting according to their judgement, voting in accordance with their constituents’ perceived wishes, or “honouring the result of the referendum” and voting to rubber-stamp the “decision” reached in the plebiscite on 23 June last year.

    Cameron’s Referendum (let’s call it that, and confirm it as the defining point in his political legacy) was ill conceived, the “Remain” campaign was abysmal, and the “Leave” campaign was disgraceful.

    So, while I agree that the result was a disaster, I cannot work up any enthusiasm for the idea of another referendum and I shall not be signing your petition.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Feb '17 - 3:29pm

    I don’t agree with this specific policy but referendums have merit. We can’t just have parliaments unilaterally pulling us out of the EU, or Scotland out of the UK, without a referendum on the specific question.

    I think the question should have been “do you accent the new terms or reject” and that’s it. Not “do you accept or want to go back in the EU”? The latter question will turn into a “best out of three”.

  • Martin Clarke 6th Feb '17 - 4:04pm

    Any second referendum with one of the options being Remain in the EU will lead to the UK being offered the worst possible deal to force us to stay. Sadly it is a complete non starter.

  • nvelope2003 6th Feb '17 - 4:19pm

    It seems that, after the Referendum and the decision of the Supreme Court, a vote in Parliament is the equivalent of the Royal Assent to bills – just a formality. Presumably if there were mass demonstrations Parliament would now be expected to agree to anything. The end of hundreds of years of the sovereignty of Parliament in favour of the rule of the mob whipped up by tabloid newspapers.

    We are a little nation, no longer the Empire that ruled the waves on which the Sun never set. How can we remain sovereign in any way except as part of a wider group ? Only the US, China, India, Russia and possibly Germany can really be called sovereign. Our sovereignty is only a bit greater than Denmark or Luxembourg.

  • Nick Collins 6th Feb '17 - 5:37pm

    Quite so, nvelope2003. Erskine May is dead. The new doctrine, according to May, is that “Parliament must not obstruct the will of the people”.

    But one of the many problems with Referenda is that, more often than not, people seem to use them to express their views on the performance of politicians rather than to give a considered answer to the question on the ballot paper. For example. in 2011 the main argument of those opposing AV was that Nick Clegg was in favour of it so people should express their antipathy to Clegg by voting against it; that strategy worked very well for them.

    So let’s start an anti-referendum movement. My suggestion is that those who hate referenda should make a point always of giving the answer least desired by those calling for the referendum, or those who have campaigned the loudest to bring it about. If enough of us do that often enough, sooner or later politicians will get the message and stop calling them.

  • @Mark Goodrich
    The public rejected AV not as a general principle, but specifically for Parliamentary elections. Hence voters in London and elsewhere seem happy enough to use a shortened variant of it (SV) for Mayoral elections even though they rejected it overwhelmingly for Parliamentary elections. AV is perfectly fine for things like leadership elections or single-issue referendums – the Electoral Reform Society feel much the same way about it.

    “The whole idea of three options is a complete red herring since the government would only be putting forward a ‘deal’ if it was better than ‘no deal’.”

    Eh? What happened to letting the public decide? I’m sure there will be plenty of people who would think no deal is better than what May comes back with, especially as whatever deal she brings back will be whatever the EU decides to offer rather than the deal she would like. According to Yougov, 39% of people would rather leave with no deal than a bad deal.

    It would be fascinating to see how the Lib Dems react if (and I know this is hypothetical) we get confirmation through the courts that the UK has no power to revoke notification of Article 50. Will Tim Farron still be adamant that the British people need to choose the destination – which could only mean a straight run-off between leaving with a deal and leaving with no deal – or will he suddenly revert to thinking that referendums are a terrible idea?

  • @Nick Collins
    “in 2011 the main argument of those opposing AV was that Nick Clegg was in favour of it so people should express their antipathy to Clegg by voting against it”

    I don’t believe that at all, the reason AV was rejected was because of the abysmal way that the Liberal Democrats handled the coalition.
    This was the first coalition government in modern times, it was an opportunity to show the country just how coalitions could work and would be better for democracy, more open honest and transparent, after all that is what Clegg had promised he would deliver

    Problem is, the Tories played an absolute blinder in their negotiations and the Liberal Democrats where ill prepared. The positions offered to Liberal Democrats where positions which the Tories knew would bring the Liberal democrats into disrepute.
    Putting Cables department in charge of tuition fee’s saw poor Vince having to defend a policy that he did not agree with and saw him nearly voting against his own departments policy *Shambles*
    Chris Huhne Energy, saw him proposing the new nuclear power stations that he and the party had always been apposed too.
    Danny Alexander- Treasury, saw him being trotted out as the defender for the chancellor and all governments policies.
    From Nick Clegg’s rose garden love in “If we keep doing this we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on”
    To the hush hush behind close doors negotiations and refusing to show the public where there was disagreement between the 2 parties.
    The public needed to see how negotiations worked between the 2 parties, what was starting point A between the two parties and what was negotiated, only then could they judge the effectiveness of a junior party and a coalition government.

    People did not like what they saw, they saw the junior party in coalition government as not being effective and out of it’s league and as such rejected AV because it would have lead to more coalitions in the future.

  • We in Hackney have a majority leave vote but we are regretting it. Would want another referendum or should I say 2nd referendum because we are poor and we don’t want hard Brexit and our local stores have sharp price increase on almost everything. We now a majority would want to remain with EU

  • David Allen 7th Feb '17 - 1:03am

    There are (probably) three choices: Leave with May’s Deal (assuming she has been able to strike any deal); Leave with No Deal; and Don’t Leave, Stay In.

    Parliament will be offered the choice. May says that only options 1 and 2 will be available to Parliament. That’s nonsense. If at the relevant time there is a head of steam in favour of option 3, then Parliament will insist on voting on option 3. If there is no such head of steam, then May might be able to restrict the vote to a choice between options 1 and 2.

    We, and the Observer, have sought to improve the chances of a Remain option, and of softer Brexit options, by demanding a second referendum, rather than just leaving things to Parliament. When Farron first put that argument, May had not conceded that Parliament should have a vote. Now that she has made that concession, is Tim’s demand still needed?

    I am inclined to think that it is. The strongest reason is that if only a second Parliamentary vote could stop Brexit, then May would be very tempted to game the system. Start an acrimonious row with Michel Barnier, wrap the Tory party in the Union Jack, call a snap election on “Theresa versus the Frogs”, win 400 seats. Hey presto, even when Brexit goes totally and obviously pear-shaped, the Tory party is impregnable and can still vote it through a supine Parliament, irrespective of what the people think.

    Oh wait, what about that second referendum? It had better be demanded, now and repeatedly, hadn’t it?!

  • @David Allen
    The trouble is, even in the unlikely event that a second referendum were to take place, there is no justification whatsoever for the Lib Dem position that “Stay in the EU” should be on the ballot paper but “leave with no deal” should not. I understand that such a referendum might, in your words, “improve the chances of a Remain option”; but this is a reason, not a justification.

    What do you think the effect would be on trust in our democratic system (and, inevitably, on social cohesion) if such a referendum ever happened?

  • John Barrett 7th Feb '17 - 8:33am

    Andrew McCaig – “Your divorce analogy does not help your argument. Until the decree absolute is signed, the divorce process is easily reversed and this happens fairly often once people realise how much hassle and expense is involved.”

    Au contraire.

    Those who are considering divorce are more like those who wanted to remain together, but only if things improved in the form reform of the EU. Many made it clear that if no significant reform was on offer, then they would be off. After David Cameron returned with no offer of a better life, through a few minor reforms, many then opted to go through with the divorce.

    Even Nick Clegg, when he was strongly supporting an in/out referendum, was saying that EU reform was essential.

    It may be that some who start the divorce process then stop it, but it is equally true that some who stop their divorce proceedings restart them later on.

    The point I was making is that when people believe things have passed the point of no return and that the best future they are being offered by a partner (or the EU) is not one that they want to share, then leaving is sometimes the only option, despite the “hassle and expense” you mention.

    One difference is that to a large extent, whatever settlement is agreed, it will not be until many years into the future that anyone will know the true cost or benefit of leaving the EU.

  • Richard Cripps 7th Feb '17 - 9:02am

    According to the recent BBC voter analysis I bucked the trend and voted Remain despite being 60+ and not having a university education. However, I know and respect many people who voted Leave. Why did they? Many reasons, but I would put forward two. The party leaders of the last parliament (Cameron, Clegg and Miliband) all came from privileged backgrounds and although talked rather patonisingly from time to time, about “ordinary working people” (or similar) they had no idea about how most of us live or were brought up. So, the disconnect between the “leaders” and the “led” which had started during the Blair government (Iraq War) and the expenses scandal, widened even more. Many people had stopped listening to politicians by June 2016. This negative view was fully reinforced by the appalling negativity of the referendum campaign debate on both sides. The Remain side didn’t, as far as I am aware, put forward any cogent positive reason for staying in the EU, rather concentrating on the negative effects of leaving. In fact, I voted Remain despite George Osborne’s best efforts to push me the other way! Of course, the Leave campaign was at least as equally negative but in the end, many people made a choice based on who was the lesser of two liars. How sad! If there is a second referendum (which I am not yet convinced is appropriate) the campaign needs to be of a radically different nature to validate it.

  • divorce analogy

    I wish people would stop calling leaving the EU a ‘divorce’. We were never ‘married’ to the EU: we were never in love with it, and we never promised to stick with it for richer, for poorer, for better or for worse.

    We joined because we were in a bad way economically and we thought it would help. Now the tables have turned, the EU is in permanent currency crisis, unemployment is soaring, and its markets are shrinking, and it looks increasingly like being shackled to it is a hindrance to our economy rather than a benefit.

    We were only even in the EU for what we could get out of it; it wasn’t a marriage, it was a business partnership which has now run its course and needs to be dissolved. What needs to happen is that the contracts are now unwound in as clear-headed a way as possible.

    Getting emotional about it, as if it were a divorce, helps no one.

  • David Allen 7th Feb '17 - 6:04pm


    “The trouble is, even in the unlikely event that a second referendum were to take place, there is no justification whatsoever for the Lib Dem position that “Stay in the EU” should be on the ballot paper but “leave with no deal” should not.”

    There is certainly an issue to be dealt with here. Parliament can decide between three options, but a referendum must be restricted to two. Leaving it to Parliament might seem like the answer, but that falls down because, as the OP points out, it would just give a blank cheque to a PM who has no mandate, either for her personal leadership or for hard Brexit. So, whilst you are right to point out the issues, we need to find a way to make a second referendum work.

    Offering “Leave with May’s Deal” versus “Leave with No Deal” would clearly not be a valid referendum question (at least, not unless it was obvious to all that there was a massive majority determined to leave, somehow or other).

    Offering “Leave with May’s Deal” versus “Stay In” might also look flawed. But it isn’t. “Stay” can and would be taken to mean a whole host of things, including “Stay but call for May to negotiate a different form of deal, and then leave”, as well as “just stay”. A “stay” vote would merely represent rejection of May’s deal. It would hand the baton back to the politicians to argue what should come next, and it would not automatically mean a victory for Remainers. It might very well take a General Election to decide what it should mean.

    So it wouldn’t be a panacea for fanatical Remainers like us. But it would put the people in charge of their own destiny. That’s why it would be right!

  • “Stay” can and would be taken to mean a whole host of things, including “Stay but call for May to negotiate a different form of deal, and then leave”, as well as “just stay”. A “stay” vote would merely represent rejection of May’s deal.

    So in other words after the second referendum we would have to have a third referendum to decide what the second referendum really meant?

    If we vote the wrong way in the third referendum (ie, we vote ‘call for a different deal and then leave’ rather than ‘just stay’) will you be agitating for a fourth referendum, too? And then a fifth, if necessary?

  • nvelope2003 8th Feb '17 - 3:40pm

    Matt: When the AV referendum was held the coalition had only been in existence for a short time so it was a bit early to make any judgement. As I recall there was a majority in favour of AV according to opinion polls but at the last minute the Conservatives claimed that AV would cost an extra £250 millions and support fell. Cameron had given an undertaking to Clegg not to play an active part in the campaign but when victory for AV seemed probable he began a vigorous effort to defeat the proposal. Conservative newspapers were also extremely hostile to AV. It was not the best idea and there should not have been a referendum. Only Proportional Representation will do, after Parliament has enacted it. Referendums are used to express people’s feelings on other matters and should not be used in a Parliamentary democracy. No doubt MPs’ votes are also subject to various pressures but at least there can be an expectation that they will vote on the merits of the bill.

    The EU referendum has made clear to even the most obdurate politician that there is a great deal of pent up hostility to the establishment and all its works so at least in that respect it has done some good but if leaving the EU turns out to have been a mistake then many of those who put their faith in leaving will pay a higher price than others such as those who voted remain and the rich men who talk about sovereignty without understanding what it means.

  • David Allen 8th Feb '17 - 6:05pm

    Dav, by suggesting five referendums you are trying to make all this sound absurd, but, it is your comments, not mine, which bring in the absurdity. You are trying to win an argument by concealing the weakness of your own position.

    May is happy with calling a parliamentary vote because she knows that she can turn that into a meaningless rubber stamping exercise. Labour have caved in to that, as usual. The Lib Dems have called for a real chance to reconsider when we see how the negotiations have played out. To seek to deny that chance by muddying the waters with nonsensical technicalities is despicable.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Feb '17 - 10:11am
  • Andrew McCaig 9th Feb '17 - 10:22am

    @John Barrett
    The point about divorce is that reversing it is actually extremely easy. I know people who have remarried after getting divorced and that is a very simple process. The process of divorce is considerably more difficult, for all sorts of reasons. The process of leaving the EU will be much more troublesome than most divorces and so would the process of rejoining, if we ever decided to do that. Moreover divorce is quite a personal matter affecting mainly the immediate family of the couple (although that can be pretty bad, of course) – when people voted to Leave they were affecting the future of whole generations to come. There is at best only a superficial comparison between Brexit (especially as conceived by Theresa May, an irreversible decision) and divorce..

    The Brexit decision was the equivalent of a score of 13-12 in a football match. Most divorces are much more clear cut than that, and I doubt if many people enter divorce proceedings on such a narrow margin. You suggest some voters might be persuaded by reform of the EU and it is entirely possible that by 2019 the EU will have reformed in one way or another. Where we are going to be after we leave will also be clearer. The final question that is asked in a divorce hearing is “do you want to go ahead, now you have thought about all the consequences?”. The British people should be given the same opportunity.

  • John Barrett 10th Feb '17 - 8:14am

    Andrew McCaig – It’s not just me…………..

    Yesterday Jacqueline Minor, head of representation for the European Commission in the UK, said (in a speech covered in today’s papers) that Article 50 was like a divorce — and “like all divorces it can get nasty because money will be talked about”.

  • The Lib Dems have called for a real chance to reconsider when we see how the negotiations have played out

    So you admit that the whole point of you calling for a second referendum is to get the people to ‘reconsider’, ie, to call off leaving the EU, and that that is how you will call for a ‘Stay’ vote to be interpreted (as ‘Remain in the EU’) — any talk of it maybe meaning ‘stay and negotiate another deal, then leave’ is, frankly, disingenuous?

    I thought so.

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