On Logic, The Constitution And The People’s March

The main argument against a second referendum on the EU – yes, it’s that subject again – is that the people have spoken, it is the will of the people to leave and that any reversal of that would be a denial of democracy. That argument is both logically inconsistent and constitutionally wrong.
Here is why.
Any vote cannot be binding forever. This is why we have regular elections. Labour won overwhelmingly in 1997 and no one said, that’s it, we don’t need another vote ever. The people have spoken. This may sound trite, but it is now clear that the situation has changed significantly since the referendum. The promises made then on freedom of movement, frictionless trade, that £350 million to the NHS, are no longer achievable, and even the Brexit side is accepting that the eventual outcome of talks with the EU will look very different than it did then.
It is entirely appropriate that the electorate should be allowed to take a view on the changed circumstances when and if a deal is reached, or on a no deal scenario, once the implications of this are spelled out. This the government is already starting to do.
There is an argument that 700,000 people marched yesterday, but one million marched against the Iraq war and the Blair government ignored them. Why should May pay attention to the People’s March? Again, logically inconsistent. Two different issues.
Then there is the argument, by some Remainers too, that the frustration of the earlier vote could cause such rage that there could be public disorder and even rioting. One does not construct public policy on the basis that it might make some people angry. That is the rule of the mob.
One suspects some of the opposition to a second vote is down to the fear it might go the wrong way. The demographic has changed; more young people can vote. It is obvious to many, and see the above, that the sunlit uplands being promised look less assured and less attractive than had been promised. Some people have changed their minds. They have the right to reconsider in the light of changed circumstances. This is not a matter of a straight repeat vote on remaining in or leaving the EU.
Constitutionally, it is one of the basic tenets of our political system that Parliament cannot bind its successors. No policy if instituted can not be challenged thereafter. We have no written constitution, no bill of rights. Parliament, theoretically, could restore the death penalty tomorrow, if there was a sufficient majority among MPs,and then abolish it again next Wednesday week.
By one of life’s little ironies, the only block to this would be the European Court of Human Rights, a body unconnected to the EU and which has member states that are not part of it. This would rule the restoration of capital punishment contrary to basic human rights. It could probably then not become UK law. The Brexiters want us out of the ECHR, possibly because some wrongly believe it is yet another arm of Brussels.
Referenda are constitutional anomalies and we don’t generally go in for them. We voted to join the EU. Scotland voted to stay with the UK. We voted to leave the EU. None of those is binding, in the same way that no Act of Parliament, even if duly passed by a majority of MPs, is binding on their successors.
Our system of representative democracy does not allow the electorate, and the majority in any constituency that elects an MP to Westminster, to require that MP to vote in a particular way. We can just throw them out next time if we disapprove of their actions while in office. This is an important check against the tyranny of an elected majority. Likewise the result of a referendum does not bind individual MPs to any course of action.
It is entirely appropriate, constitutionally and logically, therefore that the British people be given a chance to consider whatever deal is struck by Brussels. Or any no deal. And say they don’t like it.
A bit dry and technical, but I would love to hear any constitutional lawyers challenge me on the facts.
I must get back to blogging on mere music again.


On the People’s March

Which I have just returned from, tired and proud. The irony is that most of the people on the march, us included, have the least to lose from Brexit. Either retired or secure in their jobs, in the prosperous south east. It is the ones in the places that more likely voted Leave, the marginalised, the less prosperous, that will suffer most.
As someone unkindly noted, it was less a protest march, more a long queue at Waitrose.
We do not want a straight rerun of the referendum. We want a vote on the outcome of the talks with Brussels that will lead up to any departure from the EU, which may look rather different from what we were promised then. It is not a matter of voting again until we get the right result. It is voting again on the changed circumstances now presented to us.
As John Maynard Keynes is widely misquoted as having said, if the facts change, I change my mind. What, sir, do you do?
It may all be irrelevant. I am going to go out on a limb here. I do not believe this country will ever leave the EU. You can store this one up and read it back to me as and when we do leave. If we do.
It can’t be done. Pretty well every expert has set out the dire consequences on trade, industry, travel, etc of a no deal scenario. No one, in London, Brussels or any other European capital wants this. Only a few swivel eyed madmen think a no deal outcome is an attractive one. You will know the names – rich, and with most of their assets parked or parkable offshore. Not, by any means, the people who voted Leave, who were told no deal would never happen. And were never told of the consequences if it did.
Barnier et al have already indicated we can kick the can down the road by extending the transition period by a year. The hard Brexiteers hate this. Having extended it once, though…
All this is a rosy scenario but not impossible. Brexit just withers in the face of its sheer impossibility.
Let us conduct a thought experiment. The government, for its own mad reasons, holds a referendum on reversing the law of gravity. 52 per cent quite like the idea of flying to work, 48 per cent see that there might be a few practical difficulties. Like your roof blowing off.
Then comes the time to implement the policy…
Meanwhile in this parallel universe Boris Johnson, having engineered it so he no longer has any responsibility for the project, says that if he were in charge, he could achieve it, no problem.
Jacob Rees Mogg explains that the basic laws of physics date back to the Renaissance. And no good ever came of that.
Optimistic, I know. But now is the time for optimism if never before.