The question we were asked on 23rd June was incompleteby Oliver Conolly / August 31, 2016 / Leave a comment
We are often told, irrespective of whether or not we voted “Leave,” that there is no way back. We must, no matter how grim the process and the consequences, go through with it. Brexit means Brexit. “Leave” means “Leave.”
This argument is advanced by both Brexiters and by Remainers—the former, triumphantly, and the latter with resignation.
It is, however, nonsense. There is one underexplored reason why this is so. There are other reasons—the misrepresentations of the Leave campaign, the fact that only 37.5 per cent of the electorate actually expressed a wish to leave the EU by voting “Leave,” and the fact that the vote is not binding—which have been rehearsed elsewhere. The question I want to explore here is: does “Leave” actually means “Leave”?
The question on the ballot paper was:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
That seems straightforward enough. However, take the following example. Suppose I were to ask my wife the following question:
“Would you like to go out on Friday evening?”
A natural response would be “Go out and do what?”
I could riposte: “It’s a Yes or No question, I require a Yes or No answer”—although her response would likely be conveyed by a divorce lawyer.
You see the point. The question asked was incomplete. What if, in response to the question, she said “Yes, all right”? Friday night comes round. She may have a number of expectations as to how the evening will be spent together—going to the cinema, or a theatre, or out for dinner. I decide instead that I want to spend the evening sitting on the Circle Line. I could say that she had committed to going out on a Friday night. “Yes,” I might tell her, “means Yes.”
This time the men in white coats, as opposed to the divorce lawyers, would come for me. My wife would quite rightly point out that the question, construed sensibly, and which formed the basis of our agreement, was:
“Would you like to go out on Friday evening and do something with me which a couple might reasonably be expected to want to do on a Friday night?”