Vote Leave: Strong democratic case for referendum on the Brexit deal

When Liberal Democrats have talked about offering a referendum on the Brexit deal, they have had tonnes of abuse shovelled at them from outraged Brexiteers. We’re undemocratic, they say. We’re not willing to accept the will of the people. How on earth giving the people a say on whether their government has interpreted their wishes correctly is undemocratic is beyond me, but to the Boris Johnsons, and Iain Duncan Smiths and Theresa Mays of this world, it makes sense. That would be the people with power who don’t want it challenged.

Tony Blair is the latest figure to come in for the disapproval of the Brexiteer zealots, which now appear to include the Labour leadership. I’ll just leave this tweet from Robert Hutton here, just as an aside:

What’s interesting is that Tony Blair didn’t say much different what Nick Clegg and Tim Farron have been saying since the referendum. It’s hardly surprising that both Liberal Democrats expressed approval.

We can be absolutely certain that had the vote on 23rd June been 52-48 in favour of Remain that the Leave campaign would have been arguing for a second referendum already.

But a referendum on the Brexit deal is an entirely different thing. So what did Vote Leave have to say about that? Well, in January 2016, before we even knew the date of the referendum, Vote Leave’s director Dominic Cummings, the guy who came up with the £350 million a week for the NHS pledge which was dumped within hours of the result being known, gave an interview to the Economist. Twitter is full today of how this is still being linked to from the Vote Leave website.

Vote Leave, he said, would not oppose a referendum on the terms of exit from the EU and in fact that there was a “strong democratic case” for it:

BAGEHOT: In the event of an Out vote do you think the government would seek to hold another referendum, on the terms of Brexit?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: I think that is a distinct possibility, yes. It’s obviously not something that we can force. We’re a campaign group. But I think it is perfectly possible that leadership candidates to replace David Cameron will say that they think there are good grounds for a new government team to offer the public a voice on what the deal looks like. And we obviously wouldn’t oppose that, if that’s what senior politicians want to offer. I think there’s a strong democratic case for it. There’s also the issue of the profound loss of trust that the establishment has suffered over the past 20-30 years. All parties have told lies about this subject, whether it’s John Major and David Cameron or Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Nick Clegg. People have repeatedly promised referendums then not held referendums. So given that, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if leadership candidates to replace Cameron said: we need a mechanism so people can have confidence in what we say.

It’s funny how things change. I hope that this quote from Cummings will feature heavily in the forthcoming Lords debate.

The British people need to assert themselves to secure their say on this most important decision in our lifetimes. Those of us who can see the disaster that Brexit will bring must bring out that Obamaesque “Yes we can” attitude as we do all we can to change hearts and minds in our workplaces, families, amongst our friends and in our communities.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Andrew Tampion 19th Feb '17 - 1:46pm

    As a matter of fact none of the candidates to replace David Cameron did argue for a second referendum so the level of support for it is untested.
    In any case there is nothing here to justify the implicit assuption that the choice in the second referendum referred to by Dominic Cummings should be between staying in the EU and whatever deal was agreed, which unfortunately is our party’s official position. He could equally have meant the deal as agreed and WTO rules or between two alternative deals.

  • William Wright 20th Feb '17 - 5:57am

    The crazy idea that the current government itself represents the people is a false one. It hardly represents 25% of the voters in this country. As for democracy in the UK it seems governments … which are nearly always minority elected ones….. will call anything democratic if they wish to dictatorially quell opposition. Our form of government has stepped outside it’s remit now and adopted a formula known to fail. Asking a panel of uninitiated and mostly unaware proletariat members is not how we run things here …and then to hide behind the claim that the people have spoken is stupid and nonsense. Tony Blair has put the case for a second referendum perfectly. If we do not vote on the deal but allow a natural dictator to ram rod through a capitulation to the hate campaigners then where will we go next? Will we vote for hanging? Cutting off the hands of thieves? Burning witches? For democracy write mob rule because that is what is espoused now!

  • Mr Farron wants a second referendum in two year’s time to agree or reject the deal struck with the EU. He would obviously like a rejection of the deal to lead to the UK remaining in the EU.

    I assume that in Mr Farron’s mind, this is perfect democracy and is not a copy of the EU habit to keep having referenda until the correct result is obtained.

    Given that the EU does not want its second highest net contributor of funds and major defence member to leave at all, do you think they would reach a fair deal in the knowledge that there would be a second referendum on the result? It doesn’t take anyone with a brain to realise that the EU would ensure that we would get the worst deal imaginable.

    But then, maybe that is Mr Farron’s plan. Does he take the British public as fools?

  • John Mitchell 23rd Feb '17 - 1:03am

    I would agree with Peter. Such a referendum would only enhance the European Union’s negotiating hand. At this stage when the vote has been decided it is imperative for everyone to try and get the best deal possible out of it. If the vote had been for remain I would have been saying the same thing. I wouldn’t have agreed with it but in a democracy you must accept that sometimes you lose. As I’ve said many times before this is particularly difficult for the Lib Dems in Scotland with us now facing two ways on referendums. I simply do not accept that this proposed referendum on ‘the deal’ is anything other than a re-run despite the wording.

    If the British public are ultimately unsatisfied with the outcome of negotiations, it will then be up to the electorate to decide to choose a new government in a future general election.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Feb '17 - 12:55pm

    When Tony Blair was Leader of the Opposition the Tories were forming a circular firing squad about European policy, resulting in large electoral gains for all opposition parties at the expense of the Tories. New Labour got a large overall majority in the Commons, while the number pf Liberal Democrat MPs doubled and was followed by a bye-election win in Winchester by a large majority.

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