Why we need a vote on the deal – and include 16-year-olds

This is the speech Lord Robert’s gave in the Lords yesterday.

We need to confirm Brexit or otherwise, and we do that by voting. We voted in the referendum. People will say that we had one vote—that the people voted and made their voices heard—but it is unusual for people to rely on just one referendum.

In Wales, we had a referendum on Welsh devolution way back in 1979, when 20% of the people of Wales voted for devolution. Some years later, just over 50% voted for it, but people had changed substantially in those years. People are allowed to change their minds. If they do not, they are like stagnant water that is not fit to drink.

Let us look at other things that have happened in Wales. In 1961, we had the first referendum to open pubs on Sundays. As a Methodist minister I was not in favour and the people were not in favour. Nine local authorities voted to stay dry. Eight local authorities voted to open, so it was just over 50%. The next election on this came seven years later, and another two or three voted to open. We came to the last vote, which was the sixth referendum. This was in 1996 and then the whole of Wales voted to open.

People change their minds, very substantially. People are allowed to change their minds. Of course they are. What is this House but a place where we change what has been decided by the House of Commons? If we do not change our minds then it is hardly worth our sitting here. Of course, today we do not penalise people because they change their minds. In the Middle Ages if someone changed from one faith to another, that was the end of that person. Some areas of the world today have that total opposition to people changing their minds. Let us not be embarrassed at all. Let the people change their minds. Let them think. If we do not want them to think, we are doing something very dangerous.

So I say, yes, we need another decision. The people voted in a referendum, 48:52, to come out of the European Union. There is no threshold there, only a majority, but it is said, “People have voted”. Is it not reputable for us as a House to say, yes, we have confidence that, having explained the details, the people will be able to take a rational decision—a rational decision very necessary at this time?

How will coming out of Europe affect us? We are in a world where we have North Korea, a President of the United States whom I do not understand most of the time, and Putin in Russia. These are dangerous people and if we opt out of a stable relationship with a Europe that has the confidence of the members who belong to it, are we not really saying that we as a UK have no confidence; that we are content to be a backwater? We are not a backwater. Over the centuries we have had a distinctive position. Now we come out of Europe, we weaken Europe and we weaken ourselves.

Therefore I suggest briefly: do not be afraid of changing your mind or having a second vote. That first vote was only one vote. Also I want to say, and others have said it this evening too, that young people aged 16 and over should be allowed a vote in any referendum. It is their future. I and most noble Lords have done our best in the past but these youngsters have the future and they have to shape that future.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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  • I notice in the two examples you quote in Wales, there is a 20-30 year gap between the start of the process and the end of the process and in the case of our membership of the EU it is over 40 years. I assume you couldn’t find any examples in this country of referendums on an issue, being subject to another referendum on the same issue, less than 18 months after the first, and even before the result of the referendum has been implemented.

    You have no tangible arguments based on real outcomes to suggest we need to revisit the issue at such an early stage. On the contrary the absence of any immediate economic meltdown, contrary to the predictions of the Remain side, would suggest your factless analysis based on personal belief is seriously flawed.

    I also remember there were plenty of people predicting the Welsh Assembly would be nothing more than an extra layer of money wasting politicians. I presume now it has been shown to be the case in Wales after 20 years, suggesting certainly in the case of education and health, the Welsh are getting a poor deal for their devolution, that you would be fully behind the idea of another referendum to ask the people Wales if they want to hand power back to Westminster.

  • Eire Barnaby

    The first referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon held on 12 June 2008 was rejected by the Irish electorate, by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%, with a turnout of 53%.

    The second referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon held on 2 October 2009 and the proposal was approved by 67.1% to 32.9%, with a turnout of 59%

  • @frankie

    Barnaby point was THIS country. Funny I did not realise Eire was part of the United Kingdom

    “. I assume you couldn’t find any examples in this country of referendums on an issue, being subject to another referendum on the same issue, less than 18 months after the first”

    Barnaby made a perfectly valid point about the UK has never held another referendum on the same point within a couple of years of each other and the subject matter has taken “decades” before it is revisited.

    We all know other member states of the European Union have revisited Referendum questions sometimes within months of each other, when they have not got the answer that they wanted and those countries were criticised by many, and rightly so, for not respecting direct democracy when they countries have legislated for it and put it to their electorate.

  • @Frankie

    I wasn’t aware that the Republic of Ireland had rejoined the UK, which is what we are talking about.

    The republic has compulsory referenda on any change to their constitution under Article 46. Every EU treaty since accession in 1973 has required a majority of the Irish people to vote it into law. In effect you are comparing Apples and Oranges.

    Perhaps if all the political parties in the UK including the LibDems( formerly Liberals) had asked for the democratic authority to hand over our self governance, rather than acting through deceit to enmesh us into the EEC/EU, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and we might be happy Europeans, instead the same political parties including the LibDems are repeating the same error of judgement in trying to ignore of subvert the majority view.
    The Irish are happy with the EU because their government asked them at every juncture about handing over power, and acted under instruction. Their relationship with the EU is a relationship of their choice, not the imposed choice of 650 MP’s and several hundred unelected Lords.

  • Also I want to say, and others have said it this evening too, that young people aged 16 and over should be allowed a vote in any referendum.

    Interesting that recent published scientific research indicates that 24 is the new 18…

  • OnceALibDem 1st Feb '18 - 9:09pm

    Wales may soon be a nation where 16 year olds are trusted with the vote but not nipple piercings. Whatever your view on age(s) of consent this is complete nonsense!

  • nvelope2003 2nd Feb '18 - 9:23am

    If 16 year olds were entitled to vote in the same way as adults over 18 can do now, do they become full adults with the same privileges, rights and responsibilities as adults, including the loss of anonymity in court proceedings and their status as young offenders if convicted ? Would they be liable for their debts and no longer require a parental guarantee? If not how can votes for 16 be justified. I agree they pay taxes but children under 16 have to pay VAT on purchases.

  • I agree they pay taxes but children under 16 have to pay VAT on purchases.

    Children under 16 also have to pay income taxes, if they earn above the personal tax threshold. Presumably they would also have to pay capital gains tax if applicable (if a rich relative have them a gift when they were born that appreciated significantly in value until they sold it at the age of ten, for example).

    In fact I can’t think of a single tax which doesn’t apply to under-16-year-olds; is there one?

    If there isn’t, then this ’16-year-olds should get the vote as they can pay tax’ argument should surely be retired as it makes no sense.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Feb '18 - 12:12pm

    Only one member of the EU allows votes at 16 – Austria – and they recently voted for a Conservative Government supported by the extreme right Freedom Party, although the reduction of the voting age was presumably intended to help left of centre or moderate parties. Be careful…..

  • Gwyn Williams 2nd Feb '18 - 1:51pm

    The Sunday Closing Wales Act was implemented by Gladstones’ Government in 1881. In 1961 the Act was repealed by a Tory Government and replaced by a referendum on Sunday opening every seven years which was undertaken district by district. However this was still controversial. It took 35 years for the last district of Dwyfor to allow Sunday drinking. There are very few who today advocate Sunday closing.
    The devolution referendum of 1997 was extremely controversial and only passed with a majority of 6000 votes. However in 2011 the referendum on law making powers was passed by nearly 2 to 1 with only Monmouth showing a majority against. Today although there is huge disappointment with the Labour controlledWelsh Assembly there is a demand for reform rather than abolition.
    It is so sad that Brexit supporters cannot accept that another referendum has to be held to draw the country together.

  • It is so sad that Brexit supporters cannot accept that another referendum has to be held to draw the country together

    To draw the country together? How could it do anything but drive the country farther apart? I mean, imagine the second one was 52/48 for remain — do we go for best of three?

  • Gwyn Williams 2nd Feb '18 - 2:21pm

    The challenge for the Liberal Democrats on Europe is to devise a referendum that is supported by 2 out of 3 people. As Roger Roberts has highlighted we are used to referendums in Wales. We have had 3 on devolution over a period of 32 years.And on Sunday opening we had 6 referendums over 35 years before the issue was finally resolved. Referendums can result in resolving a divisive issue but it will take time.

  • The challenge for the Liberal Democrats on Europe is to devise a referendum that is supported by 2 out of 3 people

    Um… is it really in the spirit of a referendum to come out and directly say you’re trying to manipulate the question in order to get the result you want?

  • nvelope2003 2nd Feb '18 - 2:30pm

    Welsh Assembly:
    “there is huge disappointment with the Labour controlled Welsh Assembly” – Well if that is the case why is it that the voters have not put another party in power ?

    EU Referendum:
    The problem with another EU referendum is that it would probably give the same result as the one in 2016. Opinion polls can no longer be relied on so a degree of uncertainty on this issue may be desirable until there appears to be an overwhelming wish for change. Which group of people is likely to suffer most or benefit from leaving the EU and when will that become apparent ?

  • Gwyn Williams 2nd Feb '18 - 3:36pm

    Dav -The challenge to those supporting Brexit is that the Brexit deal is so good that 2 out of 3 people support it in a referendum.
    nvelope2003. In 2016 Labour won only 34% of the vote on a turnout of just over 40%. However this translated into 29 out of 60 seats. In the entire existence of the Welsh Assembly Labour has never won more than 45% of the vote and the turnout has not exceeded 50%. Labour has been in power permanently with the support of less than 23% of the electorate. The answer to your question is that as FPTP is biased towards the Conservatives in England. In Wales it is biased towards Labour.

  • The challenge to those supporting Brexit is that the Brexit deal is so good that 2 out of 3 people support it in a referendum.

    I don’t understand what you mean? Given the country is so evenly split it’s highly unlikely that any imaginable referendum on the topic would have a margin that big.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Feb '18 - 6:20pm

    Gwyn Williams: The Welsh Assembly is elected by a combination of FPTP with top ups from a regional list where Assembly Members are elected by proportional representation. I presume Labour still wins because it gets more than its share of FPTP seats therefore the system needs revision to increase the number of list seats and reduce the number of FPTP seats although at the moment no party has an overall majority but at least other parties have some representation. If UKIP fail to get seats in future this could give the Liberal Democrats the chance to regain some PR seats.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Feb '18 - 1:14pm

    An eminently sensible speed as you would expect from Lord Roberts. Perhaps the British referendum vote will go down in history as the only example of where the people were not allowed to change their mind in an established democracy. What are the Tory Party scared of – losing votes, losing credibility or losing their tradition of loyalty to their own?

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