Opinions change as observed facts change, and in a democracy it must always be possible to reflect those changes in influencing our future. These are the things we now know, that we did not know at the time of the referendum:
- The government would fight so hard to circumvent democratic process.
- The government would approach Brexit in a chaotic and unplanned fashion.
- That the closeness of the result would likely not be reflected in the Brexit outcome.
- That the government would be demonstrably incompetent, negligent and dishonest.
- That the opposition would fail to hold the government to account.
Leavers repeatedly ask us Remainers, why can’t we accept the ‘democratic process’ or ‘the will of the people’. They are perfectly entitled to ask this question of us, and it is not one we should be afraid of or offended by. I felt that they deserved a full and up-to-date answer. However, I am not going to dwell on the pre-referendum reasons – the lies of the Leave campaign, the incompetence of the Remain campaign, the alleged illegal Russian interference, nor the crass stupidity of holding the referendum in the first place. These have been done to death (here and here for instance), and both sides are bored with the arguments. The referendum happened, and Leave narrowly won – that I will not dispute.
What I want to concentrate upon are events since the referendum; which are at the root of my growing increasingly passionate about challenging Brexit. In my opinion, any one of the following points fully justifies our calling the government to account:
- “The government would fight so hard to circumvent democratic process.”
The determination of the government to force the UK out of the EU without exercising its legal obligations to act in the best interests of the UK is very clear: “Brexit Means Brexit”. This intention has been manifest in many of the government’s actions, and the lack of choices that it has presented to parliament. Let’s remember, were it not for Gina Miller’s intervention, A50 would have been triggered without a vote and without any discussion of the referendum result in parliament. The ‘Remain’ option has been erased from the menu – regardless of whether this might be in the best interests of the UK. This is negligent, quite possibly illegal, contemptuous of the public, and a complete abrogation of the government’s obligations. Without knowing the final form of Brexit, the government cannot possibly know if Brexit is in the nation’s interest.
- “The government would approach Brexit in a chaotic and unplanned fashion.”
There is a fundamental lack of strategy and clarity: Any competent government should have formulated its aims before triggering the A50 process – and preferably before calling a referendum in the first place. This it did not do. I write this piece approximately 18 months after the referendum and there is little more clarity about the shape of Brexit today than there was on June 23rd 2016. In particular, there is no hard detail on the nature of trading relationships between the UK and the EU, or the RoW. This has been enormously damaging to business, and to the growth of our economy: we have moved from being one of the best-performing EU economies to one of the worst. The damage that has been done is wholly gratuitous and unnecessary: It would have been largely avoided had the government gone about Brexit in a more rational and planned fashion. While I think Brexit will be a detriment to our economy in any circumstances, the conduct of the government has pretty much assured this outcome.
- “That the closeness of the result would likely not be reflected in the Brexit outcome.”
Given the knife-edge result, my expectation was that the government would find a solution that all voters had a chance of uniting around. Ie: that in negotiating Brexit, they would show due deference to the narrowness of the Leave majority. This they have not done. During the referendum campaign, Leavers spoke of their expectation that the UK would remain in (or have unfettered access to) the Customs Union and the Single Market: Even the extremists like Farage and Banks talked about a Norway/EEA option. Although still uncertain, the threat of a hard Brexit or “crash-out-no-deal Brexit” is a probability rather than a possibility – and this will not be an outcome that any of us on the Remain side can ‘unite around’. While the possibility of crashing out without a deal persists, it is essential that it is balanced with the option to Remain: This is only prudent.
- “That the government would be demonstrably incompetent, negligent and dishonest.”
The government has demonstrated crass incompetence at every turn in the process. Their preparedness is a national embarrassment, and the lack of knowledge and sensitivity to the issues amongst ministers a source of derision amongst our international partners. Although they do their best to reflect the ‘blame’ upon the EU, it is clear to me which side looks the more prepared and professional. Then there is the matter of the Brexit Secretary, David Davis – who is either a negligent liar or simply an incompetent liar: as proved conclusively by his statements (and those of his staff) relating to the so-called sectorial analyses (or impact assessments). Either David Davis lied to parliament – and he has impact assessments which he has declined to publish OR he is taking the UK through Brexit without adequate assessment of the likely impact on the economy (which he earlier said his department had undertaken). Either way, we are in the hands of someone who should not be in the job.
- “That the opposition would fail to hold the government to account.”
Labour is maintaining a pro-Brexit stance, despite 70%+ of its voters being opposed to Brexit. Their current position seems to me to favour a harder Brexit than that envisaged in Labour’s manifesto which promised “…strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”. Remain supporters have no effective representation from either of the major parties and are hence underrepresented in parliament. Remain supporters are therefore simply doing what the opposition should be doing in holding the government to account.
Any one of the above points fully justifies any member of the public calling the government to account. I will continue to resist Brexit at every opportunity, and call for MPs and/or the public to be able to make an open choice on whether to either (i) accept the final deal, (ii) to leave the EU without a deal or (iii) to remain in the EU.
We all have a right of free speech, and I will continue to exercise mine.
Here are some template letters for you to adapt to your situation and your MP.
- The following templates are just that – templates for you to change. Please do not use them it as-is, but customise them to you – personal stories are the most powerful. Note that there are some passages which must be modified if the letters are to make sense.
- I have included various sections which are more suited to certain types of MP. It’s worth checking your MP’s declared position prior to the referendum, with this BBC checker: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35616946
A Letter Requesting Amendment to the
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
<Your Full Address>
Rt Hon <MP Name>
House of Commons
Dear <MP Name>
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
I refer to the above bill which is currently progressing through parliament.
I am concerned at the degree to which this bill, in its present form, will permit the government total freedom to decide the terms and timing of our withdrawal from the EU. Parliament is being asked to cede much of its power to ministers, and will powerless to intervene should any aspect of Brexit prove to be unacceptable. For instance, I believe it would be possible for the government to force a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit without any form of scrutiny or sanction by parliament.
This situation is totally unacceptable, undemocratic and, to any fair minded individual, plain wrong. You are the democratically elected representative for this constituency and you must not give up your power to represent your constituents.
Please ensure that this bill is appropriately amended such that parliament has scrutiny of, and is required to approve, any final Brexit deal.
A Short Generic Stop Brexit Letter
<Your Full Address>
Rt Hon <MP Name>
House of Commons
Dear <MP Name>
I write as a concerned constituent about the lunacy of Brexit. No sane person takes risks without there being a potential benefit, and there is simply no benefit to any style of Brexit – in fact, quite the contrary. Whether we are talking about ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, or a short or long transition period; all forms of Brexit will be hugely damaging to the UK and its economy. This is something on which all credible economists and commentators agree.
Popular opinion is changing fast: People have started to realise how badly they were misled by the Leave campaign, and they have started to see the damage which has resulted from the referendum and subsequent political upheavals. They are also starting to understand what Brexit is, and what effects it may have. Many feel disenfranchised and ignored by both major parties who are maintaining a pro-Brexit position. Politics must respond to this sea change.
A majority of electors now favour a second referendum, and I feel that the public must be given an opportunity to sanction the final deal.
Please do the right thing for the nation and oppose this act of self-harm.
A Very Short Generic Stop Brexit Letter
<Your Full Address>
Rt Hon <MP Name>
House of Commons
Dear <MP Name>
I write as a concerned constituent about the lunacy of Brexit: Brexit has no tangible benefits and was sold to the electorate on the basis of lies.
Stop this nonsense now – it is damaging our country and its reputation.
A Long Generic Stop Brexit Letter
<Your Full Address>
Rt Hon <MP Name>
House of Commons
Dear <MP Name>
I write because I have never been as worried as I am today about the state of the nation. The shocks of recent months have enormously damaged the unity of our country and the state of its already fragile economy.
It is becoming increasingly clear that, whatever post-Brexit vision the Leave campaign might have sold to the electorate, that which might actually be deliverable will offer no significant benefits over remaining a full EU member state. There presently seems to be only two possible outcomes from our current negotiation – namely a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit.
All credible commentators and economists agree that a hard Brexit will be enormously damaging to the UK economy, as well as diminishing our nation in many other ways. I hope that you agree that a hard Brexit, in which we lose access to the Single Market (SM) and Customs Union (CU), is one that must be avoided at all cost.
A soft Brexit, retaining some sort of access to the SM and CU, would necessarily be based upon agreement, and will come with obligations: a financial contribution and deference to EU laws. A soft Brexit will be difficult to negotiate and require scarce political bandwidth to achieve. This will result in several years’ distraction to a weakened government, which should be dealing with numerous other challenges.
While negotiations continue, the uncertainty caused by the process is damaging our economy: growth and investor/consumer confidence is down, and global companies are making contingency plans to move parts of their business outside the UK – some are already doing so. I am sure that I need not remind you of the importance of the financial services sector to our exchequer.
It really is high time that those charging forward with this initiative stepped back and honestly reassessed the probable outcome. I genuinely feel that that outcome will be inferior in every way to our remaining a full EU member, and will cause huge disruption, distraction and damage along the way.
Opinion polls indicate that I am not alone in my views. Public opinion is turning against Brexit and a majority of voters are now in favour of a second referendum before any deal is finalised. Tangible evidence of the damage that Brexit is doing to the UK continues to mount, and I think it highly unlikely that any second referendum would come out in favour of our leaving the EU. Nevertheless, I feel voters must be given this opportunity.
<Paragraph for MP with Undeclared pre-referendum position> I am not sure whether you will agree with the contents of my letter, but I believe that you had doubts about Brexit from the start, and I understand that you had an undeclared position prior to the referendum. I cannot believe that the events of the past 18 months will have assuaged those doubts in any way. All I can ask is that you are honest with yourself and do the do the right thing for the country – step back and give yourself the time to reconsider what is happening and the likely outcome.
<Paragraph for MP with Leave pre-referendum position> I am not sure that you will agree with the contents of my letter, but I believe that the events of the past 18 months must have sown doubts in your mind. All I can ask is that you are honest with yourself and do the do the right thing for the country – step back and give yourself the time to reconsider what is happening and the likely outcome. Changing your position on this important issue is not a sign of weakness – quite the contrary, it is a sign of strength.
<Paragraph for Labour/Conservative MP with Remain pre-referendum position> I am not sure whether you will agree with the contents of my letter, but I know you had doubts about Brexit from the start and declared for Remain prior to the referendum. I cannot believe that the events of the past 18 months will in any way have assuaged those doubts. All I can ask is that you are honest with yourself and do the do the right thing for the country – step back and give yourself the time to reconsider what is happening and the likely outcome. You will undoubtedly need to fight others in your party with more entrenched views, but please be assured that you will have widespread support from your constituents in doing so: Challenge the party line.
<Paragraph for Conservative MP>Sometimes leadership means having the fortitude to admit that things are not going to plan. The Conservative Party needs to put the needs of the nation above those of the party. <MP name> please do the right thing and help stop this national act of self-harm.
<Paragraph for Labour MP>Sometimes leadership means having the fortitude to admit that things are not as they should be. Over 70% of Labour voters oppose Brexit, and it is now essential that the Labour Party emerges as the party fighting Brexit. <MP name> please do the right thing and help stop this national act of self-harm.
<Paragraph for LibDem or SNP MP>The Liberal Democrats <or SNP> are the party most opposed to Brexit: Please ensure that you continue to do the right thing and help stop this national act of self-harm.
<Paragraph for any MPs that might need reminding of this>Finally, I must remind you that you should not, and indeed you must not, consider the outcome of the referendum as a fait accompli: you are bound by the MPs Code of Conduct to act in the interests of the nation and this you must do. (Section III 6 applies).
If you agree, that the UK must be given democratic choice in EURef2, here are some actions you should consider. Please don’t just sit there – this issue is vital to the UK:
- First and foremost: write to your MP: Your MP is your main conduit for access to Westminster. MPs have a duty to listen to the views of their constituents. See: Template Letters to MPs. Please also feel free to plagiarise any of the material from this site in order to help you write your letter.
- Better still – make an MP’s surgery appointment and tell him/her to his/her face. Take a friend or two who feels the same way.
- Write to other politicians. Perhaps members of the House of Lords or others who you may be able to support the cause. Noble Lords who are sympathetic (but need motivating): Patten, Heseltine, Blunket, Mandelson, Kinnock, Darling, and I am sure there are many others. Note that MPs, other than your own, are under no obligation to listen to you or read your letter.
- Consider funding the Brexit resistance movement: Crowdfunder: Fight Brexit Warchest
- See this list of Influential Remainer Twitter accounts for news of further activities, such as marches, protests and other organised events: List of Twitter’s Influential Remainers
- Try to take part in Twitter’s #StopBrexitHour – Sundays at 6pm.
Campaigns of civil disobedience can not be recommended as yet, but their time may come. The following is illegal, but very funny nonetheless…
This section notes, but does not discuss in any detail, the democratic and demographic weaknesses of the first referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June ’16. This subject has been widely covered elsewhere and I include it here as an easily referenceable reminder.
The main points of concern are:
- As already noted extensively on this site, there was insufficient information available for the public to make a irrevocable informed choice.
- Depending on how you analyse the figures, only around one third of those eligible to vote actually voted for the option to Leave the EU. This is an extremely weak mandate for such a huge constitutional change. Wikipedia Referendum Results Analysis
- The young, those who have to live with this decision the longest, failed to turn out in huge numbers. I know full well that ‘that was their choice’, but I cannot respect a decision taken by those on whom it will have little impact, at the expense of those who will be profoundly affected by it. In EURef2, I believe everyone from 16 upwards should be able to vote – and responsible older voters should be talking to their children and grandchildren about their views. NB: 16-18 year olds in Scotland, who are normally allowed to vote in general elections, were excluded from the ballot.
- The substantial numbers of EU citizens living, working, contributing and paying tax in the UK were excluded from the ballot (unless they were Irish, Maltese or Cypriot). This is patently unfair – they have earned their ‘say’.
- Similarly the exclusion of UK citizens living overseas for extended periods is unfair. If they are UK citizens, then they deserve a ‘say’ in this important matter.
- There is suspicion of wrongdoing during the campaign – this is yet to be proved. However, illegal assistance to the Leave campaign by a foreign power is under investigation.
- Finally, the results of EURef1 were materially skewed by a protest vote against David Cameron’s hugely unpopular Tory government which was largely aligned to the Remain campaign. I am all for tactical and protest voting at the right time – but this was not that time.
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.
This article deals with the two ‘winning’ claims of the Leave campaign and shows them to be comprehensively untrue. I will not attempt to address any of Leave’s further claims, since they did not materially affect the result.
Let’s start with this very interesting essay by the Leave campaign’s director, Dominic Cummings: Spectator Article – how the Brexit referendum was won
He ‘goes on a bit’ but whatever you think of Leave or the result of the referendum, you have to have some admiration for Cummings and his ‘goal-oriented’ approach to winning. However, his willingness to ‘say what needs to be said to win’ shines through – and this in turn exposes the Leave campaign’s lack of principles.
What is clear from this piece is that Leave concentrated on two important and inaccurate assertions to capture the public mood. The ones which in Cummings’ estimation were decisive are: 1) the extra £350M per week to the NHS (from the big red bus), and 2) the claim that Turkey is about to join the EU, and by inference, that Turkish immigrants were about to flood into the UK.
Looking at these in turn:
1) The NHS £350M meme is one which has been widely discredited and picked apart: even if the UK gave all its ‘savings’ from no longer contributing to the EU to the NHS, it would have less than half the £350M figure available for reallocation: https://infacts.org/uk-doesnt-send-eu-350m-a-week-or-55m-a-day/
In practice the figure would be even less, as the other costs of leaving the EU need to be accounted for: such as support for businesses hit by trade tariffs, and of the setting up of UK-based replacements for European regulatory authorities. Indeed, it is likely that there would be no saving whatsoever – but there is simply not enough information on the form of Brexit to say for sure. There are many, many areas where further costs may hide.
2) The problems with the ‘Turkey’ claims are twofold: Firstly, Turkey is not about to join the EU. It is true that it is going through the joining process, but thus far it has made very little progress – and it will take perhaps a generation to get close to meeting the EU’s criteria for membership. This Wikipedia article outlines this – as you will see many areas are highlighted as ‘very hard to adopt’: Accession of Turkey to the EU
I would also make the point that, once Turkey meets the standards for EU membership, freedom of movement should not be a problem, and if there is a problem, Turkey will not meet the standards!
Secondly the EU’s current freedom of movement laws actually protect the UK (while it still retains its own border control). This is explained here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_3.1.3.html
Directive 2004/38/EC introduces EU citizenship as the basic status for nationals of the Member States when they exercise their right to move and reside freely on EU territory. For the first three months, every EU citizen has the right to reside on the territory of another EU country with no conditions or formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport. For longer periods, the host Member State may require a citizen to register his or her presence within a reasonable and non-discriminatory period of time.
Migrant workers’ right to reside for more than three months remains subject to certain conditions, which vary depending on the citizen’s status: for EU citizens who are not workers or self-employed, the right of residence depends on their having sufficient resources not to become a burden on the host Member State’s social assistance system, and having sickness insurance. EU citizens acquire the right of permanent residence in the host Member State after a period of five years of uninterrupted legal residence.
In summary, anyone from any EU country can go anywhere within the EU for up to 3 months, but after that, if they have no job and they are unable to support themselves then they can be repatriated. The UK government does not at present apply these powers – but that is no fault of the EU. Clearly, this second point allays the fears of UK voters of immigration from all EU states – not just Turkey.
The Remain campaign comprehensively failed to counter the Turkey claim on either ground, but was completely silent on the freedom of movement point. Why? Because Remain was government led, and the government was embarrassed by the fact that it was culpable, not the EU, for its failure to control immigration. Remain had the hubris to think it could win without publicising this fact. This is shockingly negligent.
I believe that I have adequately demonstrated that neither so-called ‘decisive’ argument from Leave bears scrutiny, and each can be comprehensively dismissed as untrue.