This article was originally published on the Prospect Magazine website.
We’ve had the vote and it’s been ratified in parliament. A rerun would be untenable—and risky for both businesses and the public sector.
My erstwhile colleague, Nigel Farage MEP, has said that he could possibly consider supporting a second EU membership referendum to ‘kill off’ the Remain campaign for a generation. Notwithstanding the poor choice of words, I believe that Nigel is wrong—a second referendum is not appropriate.
Firstly, UK democracy, like it or not, works on a winner take all basis. All spoils to the winner and nothing for the runner-up.
For example, in the 2017 General Election, Stephen Gethin won the constituency of North East Fife by just 2 votes. He took the seat at Westminster and the runner up, Elizabeth Riches of the Liberal Democrats, took away nothing—even though Gethin only secured 33 per cent of the vote, which was a mere 23.4 per cent of the electorate.
That is how UK democracy works. The following day could have brought about a different result, but that is irrelevant: on the day, he secured more votes than any of the other candidates and became MP.
The Referendum was exactly the same: a binary choice, and the side with the most votes took the prize.
There is another example worth noting. In 1975, only 43.6 per cent of the electorate voted for us to confirm our membership of the then EEC.
A binding vote
There have been accusations from the Remain side that the June 2016 referendum was advisory and that, therefore, the result should not stand.
Yet while it is true the vote was advisory, its result was ratified in Parliament and so the result should stand (as was promised by David Cameron).
There have also been concerns that the Northern Irish, Scots, and Welsh should have had a veto—that a super majority should have been required—and that we should have known what post-Brexit would look like.
All of these points were discussed at the European Select Committee, and all were rejected by the pro-Remain Government.
In other words, the rules of engagement were set by David Cameron—who wanted us to stay in the EU. He refused these requests, and the Leave camp simply played by the rules we were given.
The electorate’s choice
There have been claims that the Leave campaign lied to the electorate, with a particular focus upon the £350 million a week for the NHS.
It is worth noting that none of the people making this claim were in a position to actually make that promise, particularly as the Referendum very quickly descended into a Conservative Party leadership contest, with many, many Leave campaigners being marginalised as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove made their personal pitches to be PM via the Referendum.
It also needs to be noted that the Remain side were also very slick with dishing out doomsday scenarios (none of which have materialised).
Neither side behaved particularly well, but this is most often the case in elections: it is the responsibility of the individual voters to acquaint themselves with the facts, weigh the opinions, and then vote accordingly.
Again, this is how our democracy works. Look, for example, how many manifesto pledges this government has abandoned and ask yourself: after so many U-Turns, should we have another election? Or is this just part and parcel of realpolitik?
A re-run would be bad for business
Now the decision has been democratically made and ratified by parliament, it is the time for getting on with getting the best possible Brexit—not staying bitter about a result that you did not like. Businesses and the public sector need to know what Brexit is going to mean for them, and they need to plan.
Holding another referendum will only delay those plans ensuring a sub-optimal outcome—and would almost certainly guarantee companies upping sticks and relocating.
Finally, how many referenda do we need to get on with Brexit? Is two enough? Or should we have three, as Tony Blair suggested? If Remain win the second, do we go for ‘best out of three?’
These suggestions are unrealistic. We had the vote. It was won by Leave according to the rules. The leadership of both sides may have behaved poorly at times, but that is politics.
The decision has been made. Now let us get on with it.