Sunday, 14 January 2018

Quora Question:
Should there be a second EU referendum in the UK?

Advocates of a second referendum seem to hold simultaneously two incompatible propositions:

1) The issues involved in the first referendum were too complex for the masses to understand.
2) The complex terms of an eventual exit deal can be put to the electorate in the form of a simple yes / no question.

Among the grounds for holding a second referendum is a claim that only one side misrepresented the facts in the first referendum. It seems we have forgotten Project Fear, with its immediate recession, emergency punishment budget, World War Three etc.

As a general rule I am not an enthusiast for referenda. Experience shows them to be socially divisive blunt instruments, splitting families and communities, reducing complex shades of grey to simple black and white and arousing passions that are not easy to quell after the event. General elections, by contrast,  give almost every voter some sort of stake in the outcome; few are left utterly without representation. A referendum is winner takes all, however small the majority.

However, the EU Referendum eventually became necessary because all the major political parties of the UK supported membership and selected parliamentarians to reflect that policy.  For forty years opponents had no opportunity to vote against a process that steadily eroded the sovereignty of their country. I suspect a majority of voters might still support membership of the sort of Common Market that we were told we were joining in 1973, but not of an inexorably advancing European superstate, To rage against the result of the first popular vote on this issue in four decades carries more than a whiff of anti-democratic elitism.

Inevitably the ordinary citizen, who has his own life to live, is not an expert. That doesn’t make him ignorant of how his own life is affected by the issues. The failing of our modern system of representative democracy has been the emergence of a class of professional politicians with no experience of the normal world in which their constituents live. In consequence three quarters of parliament were Remainers but the country as a whole voted Leave.

Given that almost all the political, commercial and financial elite spent months predicting chaos, it is a tribute to the resilience of the UK's economic system that the immediate aftermath of the Referendum was not vastly greater instability than in fact occurred.

Just as in the Scottish Referendum, the losers are immediately enthusiastic for a re-run. Economically speaking, nothing could be worse than the prolongation of uncertainty. It damages business, deters inward investment and is a self-inflicted wound which the country can do without. Business can adjust to in or out but not to an eternal argument.

Because the truth is, a second referendum will by no means show a clear and settled popular will. Is it not far more likely the national mood will swing periodically against the status quo just as it tends to do in general elections? How many referenda will be a sufficient number? I very much doubt that agitation for a re-run will ever be quelled if we once start along this road.

Let us instead look for the opportunities of a potential worldwide future rather than hankering after a primarily EU past.