BREXIT: Better question could be put
I would like to take issue with a number of points your correspondent Mr Spotwood made.
His assertion of ‘the clearest mandate in history’ for Brexit is challenged by the result of the previous referendum in 1975 when 65 per cent said Remain.
After that, instead of enthusiastically embracing the European project, policies seemed to be of obstruction, mainly driven by elements in the Tory party and the popular press.
Do not forget that the ‘clear mandate’ in 2016 was just 37 per cent of the electorate; 35 per cent had the other view, and 28 per cent didn’t register an opinion.
We rarely have referendums in the UK. Rightly so because of the impossibility of posing questions with yes or no answers to all but fairly trivial issues. The recent referendum was a case in point.
The question put was to Leave or Remain, but it has become obvious that there are many ways to ‘Leave’ and (not so much explored) many ways to ‘Remain’.
That is why our parliamentary system of government has evolved. Informed discussion, debate and decision-making takes place between parties that mirror the complexities of the issues, and outcomes are subject to approval or disapproval at the ballot box.
Mr Spotwood makes a number of points about the EU being fundamentally undemocratic. It is certainly not the same sort of democracy as ours in the UK. Rather than talk about democracy, a concept that has many interpretations, we should focus on accountability.
Government at EU level, via bodies such as the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the EU Parliament, has evolved and continues to evolve to deal with very different issues from those at national level. It is wrong to suggest they are unaccountable when commissioners are appointed by national governments, then approved by ministers and the EU Parliament.
Ultimately, the EU electorate has its say via the ballot box by electing MPs who influence ministers, and electing MEPs who have a controlling function over rules and regulations proposed by the Commission.
A big problem we’ve had in the UK is in not taking our EU responsibilities and opportunities seriously enough.
Surely Remainers are not advocating that the referendum result be ignored? Rather, given the complexities, a better question should be put.
Our Government has been engaged for 18 months in determining what ‘Leave’ means. Part of the answer is determined by what is acceptable in the Tory party; part by responsible stewardship of the economy; part by an interpretation of the motivation of the Leave majority; part on a solution to the border issue in Northern Ireland; and part by what is acceptable to our partners in the EU. The final package may be nothing like the outcome that Leave voters were expecting.
Remain also would now be an outcome that the voters of 2016 may not have anticipated. Remain under the same conditions as before would not be acceptable to those who voted Leave. But if the negotiations with the EU addressed issues to do with immigration and more extensive powers to make EU decision-making more accountable to the electorate, then maybe there would be a Remain option that would convince Leavers that we need not sacrifice nearly 50 years of essentially benign and fruitful co-operation.
The negotiations with the EU should result in two detailed, well understood and properly specified positions; one to leave another to remain. A better question could then be presented to the electorate.