Why Democracy Demands a Second Referendum


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Turmoil has engulfed the House of Commons on multiple occasions in the past month – we need look no further than Laura Kuenssberg’s sleepless tweets to see that. With attacks on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal coming from all sides, it can be difficult to identify a single voice of reason. However one previously shunned suggestion has now been accepted as a real alternative: a people’s vote.

Jo Johnson, Boris Johnson’s brother and former Minister for Transport, set the ball rolling a month ago when he resigned from government and issued this statement in support of a second referendum:

To those who say that is an affront to democracy given the 2016 result, I ask this. Is it more democratic to rely on a three-year old vote based on what an idealised Brexit might offer, or to have a vote based on what we know it does actually entail?

Given the lack of faith in Theresa May’s Brexit deal shown by a multitude of Conservative MPs resigning and handing in letters of no confidence in mid-November, calls for a people’s vote have risen dramatically amongst MPs on both sides of the Commons, and in the public too. This referendum would hand the decision back to the British people once more. Yet, despite the increased support, this stance faces sharp opposition from those see it as undemocratic and a shameful act towards the 51.9% that voted to leave the EU in 2016.  On the surface, that opposition seems very valid – so why now are so many people, including myself, willing to override that vital decision we made two years ago?

Ultimately we need to understand that, like the loyalties of Cabinet ministers, democracy is fluid. It is the extension of a nation’s opinions, converting their wants and needs into legislation. In fact, opinions are what makes democracy fluid in the first place – they change over time, depending on a range of factors within both private and public life.

Indeed, opinions on Brexit have changed since 2016.

A graph of averaged survey results compiled by the BBC shows that, since this time last year, opinion has consistently remained in favour of staying in the EU. On top of this, it has become evident in the past two years that both the Remain and Leave campaigns used deceitful tactics in the run-up to the referendum, weakening the legitimacy of the entire result. These points taken into account, along with the fact that democracy is flexible, is the basis for the argument that says it would be decidedly undemocratic to not have a people’s vote.

I’ll present an example: both referendums and general elections are ways in which the nation can exercise democracy by voting, but no one in the run-up to the 2017 election said “we should just stick with the results from 2015, because it would be undemocratic to neglect the voters’ original decision”. I accept that this is a crude example as the systems of elections and referendums are hugely different, but from a purely democratic focus, we all happily voted in 2017 because much had changed in both public opinion and British politics as a whole. The same is the case regarding Brexit from 2016 to 2018 – so we absolutely should have the right to give the final say.

I don’t believe that direct democracy is always the answer to a major political decision. Hindsight is 20/20, but many have accepted that the 2016 referendum should never have happened in the first place – it became apparent all too quickly that such a convoluted and nuanced decision could not responsibly be placed into our hands. Nevertheless, the precedent was set, and because we were given that decision, in the name of democracy we should rightly demand the right to change our minds if we are so inclined.


3rd year Modern History and Politics student and musician - because whose career could be more uncertain than a drummer with a humanities degree? Twitter: @MSGBurty

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