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A People's Vote!
23 Aug, 2018

But if we are not clear what it means?

It’s all very well avoiding the R-word. But if we are not clear what we want we won’t get it. London4Europe Committee member and former senior Home Office civil servant Michael Romberg writes.

I think I want the people’s vote. I know exactly what I want. And there is a good chance that the promoters of the people’s vote also want that. But you cannot actually tell from any of the material.

I am not going to tell you what I want because London4Europe is trying to avoid using the R-word because that would put off some people who would go along with the idea of “a people’s vote”. The point is, “people’s vote” is felt to be a neutral phrase aimed at attracting not only Remainers but also Leavers with regrets. It is meant to make clear that it is not a re-run of the 2016 referendum (it’s alright to use the R-word in connexion with 2016).  

But use of the phrase does mean that some people will support a people’s vote thinking it means a general election or a Parliamentary vote. It certainly means that the Government or the pro-Brexit leadership of the Labour Party could argue for either of those and call them a people’s vote and if we complain say that if we had meant something else we should have said.

The vagueness on what the question should be is also going to be unhelpful. Presumably that is because being clear on the question will put some people off. After all, quite a few Leavers would be happy with a choice between leaving on the Government’s terms and leaving with a clean complete break. Others want a three way choice – something I think would be unworkable, though a two-stage ballot might have some attractions.

Some in the Labour leadership have been thinking of some odd choices for the ballot paper. I do not take too seriously Keir Starmer’s claim that Labour is keeping its options open on a referendum – sacking Owen Smith for calling for one seemed pretty closed – but his speculation about what a referendum would ask was pretty interesting: “It all depends on the question: is it a soft or hard Brexit versus remain or leave? Or a three-way choice?”.

Similarly, Labour front bencher Rebecca Long-Bailey warned against a referendum by saying that the Government would make the choice of question and she claimed that it would be unlikely to offer staying in the EU as an option on the ballot paper. She of course knows nothing about what the Government thinks but her words reveal what is going on in the pro-Brexit Labour leadership’s mind.

Let’s be clear – Labour too could subvert the People’s Vote by joining with the Government to make the choice “Brexit or Brexit?”

So we must make clear what we want and address concerns head on. Otherwise we’ll get something different and will be told that it is what we asked for.

So, if you are unwilling to call a People’s Vote by the R word; and if you are unwilling to say that the other R-word should be an option on the ballot paper, how can we make clear what we want? Let’s try:

  • A people’s vote where each member of the electorate gets to answer the question on the ballot paper whether to accept the Government’s terms of Brexit or to stay in the EU
  • A people’s vote where the same electorate as decided in 2016 on the question of Brexit-the-idea or EU membership gets to decide the question of Brexit-the-plan or EU membership
  • A people’s vote where citizens answer the next question in the series: after 2016 comes the review of the plan; with every project review there is the option of not doing the plan
  • A people’s vote where for the first time since 1975 voters have two concrete options before them: membership of the EU as it is and a single defined plan for Brexit.

You can – and should - sign up to the people’s vote campaign here.

Also please sign the rather more clearly named petition to “Give People a Final Say on Brexit Deal” set up by the Independent newspaper. When I last looked it had attracted more signatures in a shorter time.



Blogs on this page reflect the views of the author (who in private conversation makes very free use of both R-words) and not necessarily of London4Europe