The aim of this article is to document the flaws in the Brexit process thus far and argue in favour of a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Hopefully, it will lead you to the same conclusion as me – that any reasonable person should demand EURef2, and that it would be profoundly undemocratic and irresponsible for us to exit the EU without this final arbiter.
My background is in business and I would point out that I have taken a purely business/economic view of Brexit. I am sure that many with strong views about the ‘softer’ aspects of Brexit will have similar views.
I am going to start with an analogy:
LeaveHomes is a house builder which has an option to purchase a tract of land in a particular location, with a view to building a housing estate. LeaveHomes does not own the land, nor does it have planning permission on it – indeed it has not even started negotiations with the local authority. LeaveHomes has not yet drawn up any plans for the estate, nor has it got plans for the individual properties. Nevertheless, LeaveHomes is actively selling properties ‘off plan’ as it were (but without the plan!) and requiring home buyers to irrevocably commit to the purchase of a property. They are expected to make this irrevocable commitment without knowing where the property will be on the estate, what the floor plan will be, how much garden it will have, what fixtures and fittings it will have and, crucially, what it will cost. Incidentally, this is LeaveHomes’ first project.
Do you think LeaveHomes would get many sales on that basis?
This is exactly analogous to the ‘deal’ that the Leave campaign persuaded over half of those who voted to accept in June ’16.
[NB: I am not a lawyer, but I do not think it would be possible to construct a contract of the form envisaged in the LeaveHomes analogy as it would likely be deemed ‘unfair’ in law.]
The flaws in EURef1 Campaigns
Much has been written about the flaws in both of the campaigns that led up to the June ‘16 referendum. I am almost as critical of the Remain side as I am of Leave: Both campaigns wantonly lied; both resorted to cynical manipulation of the public; and both were very light on detailed information and evidence to support their cause. At the end of the day, Leave’s tactics were rather more successful than Remain’s.
Regardless of whether we blame Leave for lying, or Remain for its negligence and for running a negative, smug and boring campaign, it is clear that the information presented to the public was questionable in the extreme.
I have written separately about Leave’s ‘decisive’ campaign claims both of which fail to bear any scrutiny: Shattering Leave’s ‘Decisive’ Claims. I have also written about the democratic and demographic problems of the referendum: EURef1 – An Insult to Democracy. I will not press these points however, as they are actually not relevant to my main thrust: Which is that the necessary information was simply not available to allow any reasonable person to make an informed choice on the issue.
The British public was given a very small fraction of the information it required to make this decision – and what it was given was of dubious provenance. Is there any wonder that the result was an approximately 50/50 outcome? You might as well have flipped a coin!
Lack of detail
So, I make the claim ‘not enough information to make an informed choice’ and feel I need to fully justify this. The way I am going to approach this point is to use the allegory of how a company might approach a major business change process: for instance setting up business in a new territory or radically restructuring the organisation. You would hope the nation would take no lesser degree of care than a company in the way it undertook its decisions!
The following table outlines the questions a business may ask in considering a major programme – and how these questions might be answered by the Brexit process so far. I have tried not to use ‘business lingo’ but inevitably, it creeps in. The aim is to get a feel for the level of information we have against that a well-run business would demand. NB: this is not just applicable to large organisations, even relatively small businesses would scrutinise major changes this way, albeit in a more informal manner.
A business would not attempt to answer all of these issues simultaneously as the information would not be available at the outset. Each would become clearer as the programme progressed and the programme would be the subject of regular formal scrutiny. ie. a business would regularly review progress and might revise its approach, or even terminate the programme should things not go as expected. A company board would certainly terminate any programme which failed to make business sense in terms of its benefits, costs, risks and timescales, and would assure itself at regular intervals that the programme met these criteria.
While the Leave campaign could have revealed more detail, the important thing to understand is that much of the information called for here is ‘unknowable’ until the point we understand the nature of our Brexit deal. And that deal depends on the course of the UK’s negotiations with the EU which are still ongoing.
In summary, where we stood on Brexit in June ’16 was that we had adequate information in only one of the six areas that I have identified as essential for a business to take a decision on a major change programme. This is simply not enough evidence in order to make an irrevocable commitment to proceed with Brexit. Yet that is the question that was asked of the public in June ‘16: We were asked to take a ‘punt’ based upon scant information and much rhetoric. This is unfair, undemocratic and dangerously irresponsible.
NB: I am being extremely generous in saying ‘one of the six areas’. Fellow remainers will dispute this, I know. I say this purely to move the debate past this point, and not because I believe that Leave has adequately articulated real ‘business problems’.
Why we need EURef2
I hope that the above material convinces you that the question asked of the public in June ‘16 was unfair – that question was completely meaningless as there was insufficient information available to make an irrevocable commitment to Brexit. And that, as it turns out, was exactly what we were being asked to make (although the irrevocablity was of itself unclear at the time).
This leads to the other key reason that we need EURef2: it is apparent that the government has abdicated its legal responsibility to act in the best interest of the country. The continual repetition of the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is illuminating and exposes the government’s thinking. ie. We will proceed with Brexit as it is ‘the will of the people’ regardless of the nature of the deal we get from the EU and regardless of whatever mayhem we may unleash in our own economy and society.
The government is legally obliged to act in the best interest of the nation, and should therefore act in the same way as the board of a company: thus terminating the Brexit initiative if it fails to make sense in terms of its aims, benefits, risks, costs etc. The noises the government is currently making do not imply that it is intending to carry out its legal duty.
It is therefore clear that, if the government is unwilling to perform this essential governance function, it is crucial that the question must again be put to the electorate, once sufficient information is available to make that informed choice.
See: The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament paragraph III 5 applies.
If you feel motivated to help the UK public get a further referendum on Brexit, then please read this article: How do we get EURef2?
A reminder about this decision
It should not need saying, but I think many voters forgot this fact in June 16: this decision will affect the UK for many years. It’s not like electing a government, which will (perhaps after inflicting limited damage) be consigned to opposition after 5 year – this is a long-term choice and one with which we will all need to live. And the younger you are, the longer you will need to live with it.