Post-referendum, the Tories are still split over Europe and Labour MPs are still desperately trying to kick out Corbyn. Neither party is fulfilling their role as government or opposition, increasing instability in a period where people need to be working together to get the best deal from Europe.
With Scotland overwhelmingly voting to remain, the SNP are going for a second independence referendum. Even UKIP are still squabbling amongst themselves despite their victory. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats offer a clear and coherent pro-European vision without internal party chaos.
Nigel Farage said himself that a 52-48 result would be ‘unfinished business by a long way’. It is unfinished business. The margin of victory is more of a margin of error than the clear democratic expression of the British people. Admittedly turnout was 72.2%, a record high. However, this still means that nearly 30% of eligible voters have not had their say. This is particularly meaningful when you consider that only 36% of under 25s voted (the age group most likely to vote remain) and 83% of over 65s voted (the age group most likely to vote leave). Add into this the fact that 16-18 year olds, expats and EU nationals living in the UK were also unable to vote and you see a result that seems considerably less representative than it initially seems.
There have been calls for a second referendum; a government e-petition calling for one has reached over 4 million signatures but this is unlikely to have much of an impact. Many remain supporters do not support dragging out the issue and a lot of misinformation has spread about the validity of the signatures (in reality just over 0.1% of the total signatures have been found to be invalid). Petitions are an ineffective way to stop Brexit as they are more unrepresentative than the referendum.
Brexit could potentially be stopped if MPs in the House of Commons reject the referendum result. Parliament is sovereign, meaning that it’s decisions overall referendums. Around two thirds of MPs in the Commons are pro-EU, they could simply block Brexit. However, this is unlikely to happen without clear justification. For MPs to go against such a direct form of democracy would be political suicide and would confirm people’s beliefs that politicians are out of touch and do not care about the views of the people.
The Labour Party shows no interest in stopping Brexit after the referendum and evidence suggests that Jeremy Corbyn showed little interest before the referendum. There is no pledge to stay in Europe from Labour. The Conservatives have been split over Europe for decades. But, it is likely that whoever the next leader of the Tories is, they will almost certainly initiate Article 50 (the process of leaving the EU) quickly to try and get rid of the issue of Europe that has plagued the party for so long.
There is also the potential that a new Conservative leader, who would also be Prime Minister, would call a snap general election (potentially before initiating Article 50). There are several benefits for them doing this quickly: they can capitalise on Labour’s divisions and inability to provide proper opposition, iit would give the new leader some democratic legitimacy (Brown’s failure to do this ultimately brought about his downfall), and get popular approval for the new leaders post-Brexit plan. Each candidate will have a different idea about whether, when, and in what conditions we should leave Europe and a general election will show them if the people agree.
Conservative MPs do not want a new election to be called. Theresa May, the favourite to be leader, has ruled out both an early general election and a second referendum. In this extraordinary political climate we currently face however, a snap general election is not to be ruled out. In the event of a snap election there is a strong alternative to both the divided Labour party and the Conservative party, both of whom would leave Europe. The Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems have pledged that in the (admittedly unlikely) event that they won a general election they would keep the UK in the EU. Add to this the fact that the Lib Dems would almost certainly introduce some form of proportional representation (a fairer electoral system for the UK), reform the House of Lords and attempt to tidy up the corruption associated with politics it might be worth giving them a shot.
Traditionally the Lib Dems are passionate about the constitution and making politics fairer, sometimes at the expense of their policies. But at this point in time, that is exactly what British politics needs: sensible people to come in and tidy everything up.
Adversarial politics and infighting prevents progress in parliament. It’s time to mix things up a bit, stay in the EU, and reform it from within while trying to bring some sense back to a political climate that is completely insane. This does not ignore the result of the referendum. Just because the people vote for something doesn’t mean everyone has to fully agree with them and stop fighting for the things they care about. Otherwise we would simply accept Conservative government indefinitely on the basis that people voted for them at the last General Election.
The Lib Dems have set themselves up as a proudly pro-EU alternative. Rather than ignoring the result of the referendum, they offer a democratic alternative. If the party is elected with a clear pledge to stay in Europe it would be just as democratic as the referendum, potentially more so because of the amount of lies and misinformation spread during the campaign. Democracy relies on an informed citizenship and when the top google search after the referendum on leaving the EU was ‘What is the EU?’ it is clear that the population was not fully informed.