Brexit and the Archbishop

Any campaign for a 3rd EU referendum faces major problems, the first being that EU 1 has been forgotten. That Referendum, in 1975, was caused by divisions within Labour which still remain. EU2 in 2016 was caused by divisions with the Tory party, which still remain under the surface. EU1 was an overwhelming YES while EU 2 was a narrow NO, but the first lasted forty years as it was not particularly destructive. EU2 was so destructive it may end the UK and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

However there is no simple way either can be re-run and something better has to be devised than a crude yes no with no checks and balances – as was said in the 2016 epetition…. which tellingly was devised by a UKIPPER, though not I think UKIP policy. But when they thought they had lost, the better brains in their ranks were looking for a third referendum. Now its a once in a generation decision.

However that is not where the big obstacles lie. The Lords debate (EU notification of withdrawal Bill March 7th) was noted for a sensible debate – the Commons debates have been contemptuous, as befits a chamber that voted to give away its rights of scrutiny – which threw light into three of the dark places of the referendum process – its role in democracy, the flaws in referendums but their unavoidability nowadays, and the reasons why there is no soft brexit, only In or Out The EU.

To start at the top, the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing against a 3rd Referendum spoke volumes. Knowing the that the 2016 bill had created deep divisions, his Grace argued “it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change, as the noble baroness Lady Wheatcroft, rightly said they were likely to do – even if they change drastically – a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum”. We may say that only when it is as badly handled as the 2016 one was, but the really crucial aspect of this is that having a debate and a vote is regarded as divisive, and even if the circumstances are likely to change drastically – ie badly – the nation cannot be allowed another vote, it would be dangerous.

In fact a third vote is the only way to reconcile Remainers to the situation, win or lose. Hard Brexiteers will never be convinced, but it is their right to campaign for another vote if they lose EU3. The fundamental democratic principle is the right to challenge the status quo. Remainers backed the right of Leavers to do so after 1975 and still do so. But we now have an Orwellian world in which Remainers are undemocratic for wanting to scrutinise and debate Brexit.

Only in a dictatorship can the governing status quo not be challenged. Parliament has given up its right to scrutinise and challenge Brexit, which EU 2 certainly gave the government the right to initiate, so the only channel left is a third referendum. Referendums are as daft as using a chain saw to do brain surgery, but its all we have left due to our politicians. It is neither dangerous nor complicated to say STOP: we want the status quo.

Many now fear an endless sequence of referendums, but that is the result of a destructive process. Referendums are indeed destructive, and a deliberative process like a Constitutional Convention would be better. But parliament sanctioned referendums. And as for Soft Brexit, while Referendums are a bad thing, they do have one valid consequence. They are clearly IN or OUT. So lets keep that choice going while we can.

Trevor Fisher

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