A second Brexit vote would be a travesty of democracy
As the March 29 deadline approaches for the UK to leave the EU, a “no-deal” Brexit is still on the table. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it is clear that the process of the UK's departure has been messy. Some of this is down to the incompetence of Prime Minister Theresa May, with her government so far failing to find an acceptable arrangement for the Irish border. Consequently, some believe that another referendum is the easy way out of this predicament. It is not.
The answer to Britain’s Brexit question is not to just keep voting until you get the outcome that you want. Mature democracies should be willing to listen to the wishes of their people and then find workable ways to turn these wishes into policy.
Anyway, there is no indication that a majority of Brits want a second vote. A survey carried out by Deltapoll last month found that 45 percent of respondents do not want a second vote, while only 43 percent do.
The recent history of Europe is littered with examples of referendums being repeated whenever the political elites did not get the outcome they hoped for. In 1992, the Danes voted against the Maastricht Treaty and, after a few tweaks, they voted again in 1993. In 2001, Ireland voted to reject the Treaty of Nice, before voting again in 2002, this time in favor.
In 2005, the Constitutional Treaty was rejected in popular referendums in France and the Netherlands. These rejections killed the EU Constitution — but not for long. In 2009, the EU agreed to the Lisbon Treaty with, according to analysis at the time by the London think tank Open Europe, 96 percent of the text the same as the Constitutional Treaty.
The only country that put the Lisbon Treaty to a popular referendum was Ireland — because it had to, by law. In June 2008, the Irish people rejected it. Immediately, EU elites called for a “period of reflection,” and it passed following another Irish referendum in October 2009.
So there is plenty of precedent for a second vote and supporters of Brexit should be alarmed.
It is curious that some people who say that Brexit is providing unpredictability for investors and businesses are often the same people also calling for a second referendum, which would provide even more unpredictability.
To make the case for a second Brexit vote, the fear-mongers are in overdrive. Brexit opponents use unsubstantiated claims of economic disaster as a result of leaving the EU in the hope that people will change their minds about Brexit. This has been called “Project Fear.”
This tactic is nothing new. Only a month before the referendum in 2016, then-Chancellor George Osborne claimed: “A vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy. That shock would push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP (gross domestic product) would be 3.6 percent smaller… compared with a vote to remain.”
But look at the situation today. The UK ended 2018 with the fastest-growing European economy in the G7. The British economy also grew faster than the eurozone last year. There were record levels of foreign direct investment into the UK in 2018. British exports hit at an all-time high last year and the unemployment rate in the UK is at a historic low.
Last year, London alone (not the whole of the UK) had more venture capital investment in the tech sector than France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and Finland combined.
Of course, when it is good economic news the naysayers point out that the UK has not left the EU yet, but when it is bad economic news the same people say that it is because of Brexit. They cannot have it both ways.
It is time for the UK to believe in itself and it is time for the EU to come to terms with Britain leaving. It is in the interests of both sides to come to a good agreement by March 29. However, if no agreement can be found, the UK should leave the EU without any deal.
As the world’s fifth-largest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of both the G7 and G20, a part of the 53-country Commonwealth of Nations, and as a country that already trades more outside of the EU than it does with the EU, there is no doubt that the UK can, and will, thrive.
A second referendum on British membership in the EU would be a slap to the face for democracy. It is curious that some people who say that Brexit is providing unpredictability for investors and businesses are often the same people also calling for a second referendum, which would provide even more unpredictability.
In any case, it is very likely that people supporting Brexit would boycott the second referendum. So, instead of being a so-called “People’s Vote,” it would merely be a losers’ vote.
It should be remembered that the vote on June 23, 2016, in favor of leaving the EU was the largest mandate given by the British public in terms of number of votes cast for anything in the history of the UK. In addition, 92 percent of those who voted in the 2017 general election just one year later did so for a political party that acknowledged the outcome of the Brexit vote.
It would be a travesty of democracy if the wishes of the British people to leave the EU were not honored.
• Luke Coffey is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey