Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ask me, ask me, ask me

The prospect of a second referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, or on the nature of its future relationship with the EU, has been on many a lip and TV show since Nigel Farage suggested he might be open to the idea in order to kill off the question for a generation.

One pretty common reaction is demonstrated by the guy 40 seconds into the above video - asking how many referendums there might be, or whether there should be a "best of five", etc.

For many people, the idea is a bit like this scene in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, where our heroes are aggrieved to have to play the Grim Reaper over and over again having already beaten him at Battleships:

But the EU referendum differs from this in crucial ways, as Farage has recognised. Firstly, the result was ridiculously close. Farage even said before the referendum that if the outcome was split 52%-48% (he was assuming that would be in favour of Remain), there ought to be a second ref.

Requiring a straightforward majority is standard in referendums internationally. However, "supermajority" requirements of say 60% and double majority requirements (meaning both an overall majority and a majority backing of, say, in the UK's case, all four of its component nations), are far from unknown (PDF and article).

Furthermore, in this instance, almost every promise made by the winning Leave campaign has now been reneged upon. There will be no £350m per week for the NHS, economic growth will be lower outside the EU, migration will need to remain high, sovereignty will be relinquished to the US, China and India rather than to an entity over which the British people have a substantial degree of control, etc etc.

All of which favours a second referendum. Ideally one in which the options are clear and the campaigners are held to account for what they say.

Personally, I'd be in favour of taking no drastic action - neither leaving the EU nor lending British backing to further EU integration - unless there is at least a 55% majority, and ideally a 60% majority, one way or the other.

One objection that is often raised is that the British people will feel like they've been betrayed if there's a second ref. This tends to go hand-in-hand with the suggestion that the referendum will be repeated until the "elites" - whoever they are, given that the Leave campaign included the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg - "get the result they want".

This is ridiculous. People don't collapse when they're asked the same question more than once. Remember Ed Miliband?

Nor are people like fruit machines that spit out different answers at random. If people feel strongly one way or another, they'll turn out again and vote in accordance with their feelings. If they don't they'll stay home, and will have no right to complain.

And if the answer isn't clear cut, the political outcome should be one of compromise that pays heed to the closeness of the result.

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