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Should we have Another Brexit Referendum?

Should we have Another Brexit Referendum?

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While both Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party have re-affirmed their commitment to taking Britain out of the EU, the often forgotten Liberal Democrats have been calling for a second referendum on EU membership following the conclusion of the negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal. But as the terms of Brexit have become more uncertain the case for a second referendum stronger than ever.

The prospect of another referendum may be unappealing if it leads to a repeat of the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 campaign. It’s becoming increasingly clear that it might be the only way to prevent a crisis of governance, and settle the issue. The Conservatives and Labour are both split down the middle, with the general election result sending a decidedly mixed message. Any hope of politicians coming together to deliver a positive outcome from Brexit seems remote even if it is the. In the long term, a second referendum would break the deadlock and provide the clarity needed for the country to move forward inside or outside the EU.

As for those that claim holding a second referendum could hinder the UK’s negotiating position, they fail to take into account the dynamics between the 27 member states. If anything, the EU27 have become more united since the Brexit vote and will not want the UK to continue membership as a reluctant partner, resisting any attempts at reform, or further integration.

Perhaps the biggest criticism that ‘leave’ campaigners have used to deride the idea of holding a second referendum is that it’s not democratic. Indeed, it has been framed as a move by ‘remain’ politicians to stop Brexit happening which defies the clearly expressed ‘will of the people.’ However, another referendum is the most democratic path. The public will know exactly what shape Brexit will take, unlike in the 2016 referendum when many claims and promises were made that have turned out to be false or unfulfillable. Furthermore, it provides voters with the opportunity to express a different view if they are not happy with the deal the government negotiates. Given the Conservative Party’s questionable mandate following the loss of its House of Commons majority, it’s not clear that the appetite for Brexit is as great as it once was.

As the government often reminds us, by voting to trigger Article 50, Parliament has accepted the outcome of the referendum, and must not attempt to ‘block’ Brexit. Frankly, this argument is worrying in its attempt to subvert the parliamentary process and close down debate. No one is trying to ‘block’ Brexit or undermine the government’s position, rather MPs are simply trying to provide the scrutiny and accountability you would expect in a democracy. If anything, it is the internal disagreements over Brexit within the cabinet that risk throwing the negotiations into chaos, particularly if no progress is made on the issues of the Irish border and the financial settlement. Meanwhile, the leaked letter from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to the Prime Minister, setting out how the Brexit process should proceed, is a dramatic demonstration of the extent to which Theresa May’s hands are tied by the ardent Brexiteers in her own government.

So far, the government has offered Parliament a ‘take it or leave it’ vote on the final deal. This is nothing more than a token gesture. A second referendum might be unpopular, but it is necessary to prevent a potentially disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit being imposed on the UK against voters’ wishes. If a week is a long time in politics, then the 1009 days between the referendum and its departure on 29th March 2019 is surely an eternity. Arguing for a second referendum does not mean rejecting or ignoring the outcome of the 2016 vote. Instead, it means ending the Brexit debate the way it started – by putting power back in the hands of the people.

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