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It won’t be best of three
22 Jan, 2018

The referendum on the terms would settle the issue

There are a number of perhaps not entirely serious claims by Leavers that a Brexit referendum on the terms could not end Brexit because the result would be at best a 1:1 draw. London4Europe Committee member and former Home Office senior civil servant Michael Romberg thinks through the issue.

2019 is not 2016

Leavers’ view is based on a mistaken premise as the two referenda would have asked different questions. It is not like a tennis match where each game is of the same nature and value.

The June 2016 referendum was about an idea. No-one goes from idea to implementation without reviewing the project plan first.

A referendum on the terms in 2019 would be different: a vote on whether to follow a single defined concrete plan.

So the referendum on the terms would not be not a re-run of June. Rather it would be a further step in the process launched in June. It would build on the June result.

A Leave win would settle the question

If that vote on the key terms that had been agreed with the EU went to Leave it is hard to see a basis for further campaigning to stop Brexit.

It would of course be legitimate to campaign to rejoin the EU after Brexit. But realistically there would be no prospect of such a campaign succeeding for decades. Even Remain voters would wish to give Brexit a go; and many voters would feel too embarrassed at the thought of giving up.

A Remain win would settle it

As Nigel Farage said on 16 May 2016: “If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”.

Indeed, if the Remain campaign win by one vote in a referendum on the terms that would end it too.

A Remain win might not settle all questions

But what is the “it” that would be ended? Not the broad question of EU membership. But rather the specific Brexit proposal on the table.

If that vote on the terms went to Remain, it would for sure offer up the possibility of another vote on a different Brexit plan.

That second plan would need to be well-defined. It would also need to be quite different from the one that had been rejected, not just tweaked a bit. And it would either need to have been agreed with other countries or be one that did not depend particularly on their goodwill in negotiations – so not have-your-cake-and-eat-it fantasy Brexit.

I do not think that the government should see itself under an obligation to provide such a plan, unless it campaigned to do so in the next general election.

It would of course be open to Leave campaigners to seek to change the country’s mind. Democracy does not stop on the day Remain win a vote any more than it stopped on the day that Leave won.

But Leave should be required to come up with something more defined than in 2016 before troubling the country with a vote.

It would be open to a Leave group to come up with another, different, worked-up Brexit plan and demonstrate that there was enough popular support to justify having a referendum on it. But after decades of campaigning for a referendum, Leave had shown themselves unable – or unwilling - to produce such a plan for June 2016.

Conclusion

So there is every chance that a Remain victory in the Referendum on the terms of Brexit would settle the matter.