The “people’s vote” campaign could succeed—but what question to ask voters?by Peter Kellner / December 4, 2018 / Leave a comment
A “people’s vote” is becoming more popular and more likely. If MPs roundly defeat the government in the coming “meaningful” vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, a referendum will move from the possible to the probable.
Holding a referendum will not be easy. For a start, it can’t be held before 29thMarch—the day Brexit is scheduled to take effect. The UK will have to ask the rest of the EU to delay our departure. This could have knock-on consequences—for example, for the UK’s participation or non-participation in next May’s election to the European Parliament.
Assuming these hurdles can be overcome, a tougher question arises that has received too little attention: what kind of referendum should we hold? There is no simple answer. The wrangling over this issue is likely to be as fraught as any aspect of the Brexit drama so far. Here are seven options. None is perfect. Different people will proclaim pros and cons with each. Which is best? Decide for yourself.
Straight choice: Remain vs May’s deal
The case for: In the 2016 referendum, voters had no idea what Brexit would be like. Now there is a specific deal, voters will be able to give, or withhold, “informed consent” (as hospital patients are asked to give before a major operation). And the risk of an economically catastrophic, no-deal Brexit would be gone—as would any danger of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The case against: The kind of hard, bring-back-control Brexit sought by a number of Conservatives and supported by around one in three voters would not be on the ballot paper. If significant numbers of MPs and voters want this, it should be.
Straight choice: Remain vs no deal
For: This offers voters the clearest of choices. We either keep the benefits and responsibilities of EU membership, or we sever all our sovereignty-sapping links with the continent and regain complete control over our laws, borders and finances.
Against: The prime minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration has been agreed with the EU. If we are to have a referendum at all, it seems perverse not to give voters the option of selecting it as the best available compromise. And do we want to risk a result that could wreck both the economy and the Irish peace process?
Straight choice: May’s deal…