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The Anti-Democracy Movement

July 5th, 2016 Posted in EU by

There is a curious social media trend at the moment, with a number of articles being regularly posted to suggest that the EU referendum result should be annulled, reversed, subject to a second vote, or overturned by a general election.

All of those are possible, if not politically plausible. And only the last has any credibility as a way of changing the outcome – that is if Article 50 has not already been set in motion. So is also unlikely.

The daftest proposals pertain to post-referendum opinion polls. These detect a higher degree of ‘buyers remorse’ amongst Leave voters, than amongst those voting Remain. Some suggest a referendum held today would then reverse the result.

An opinion poll is not a vote. It reflects a slice of opinion at a moment in time. Not a decision taken after the full period of a campaign to consider the options, under the regulatory conditions of that campaign. We cannot say then what the outcome of a second referendum might be.

Although we can say it could not be held tomorrow. It would require a new referendum bill, that bill to become an Act, a date to be set, and a period of time for a campaign. It might involve even more renegotiations with the EU as part of the Government strategy. Good luck guessing what events would do to the balance of Remain and Leave support during that process… it is simply uncertain. Polls don’t change that.

Otherwise what are we saying? That there should be a referendum in Scotland or Wales each time the balance of opinion happens to tip against the current constitutional arrangements in a newspaper?

On that basis would would have left and rejoined the EU possibly a dozen times in the last decade. June 23rd was not an aberration in voting trends in EU membership. Just a surprise given the previous 6 months of largely Remain majorities, and the presumption that the establishment-backed, status quo campaign usually wins.

The 2nd referendum by popular acclaim then is then a very silly idea. More likely than not, given a strong majority against such a vote in the same polls being quoted, it would lead to a higher Leave mandate from irritated voters.

Another grand plan is to sue the Government into Remain by challenging the right of the Prime Minister to execute Article 50. The thinking goes that if a Parliamentary vote is called first, the 440 Remain majority in the Commons, or similar bias in the Lords will kill Brexit stone dead.

I suspect this is science fiction. I am not a constitutional lawyer, so cannot be sure. But since Parliamentary Bills tend to follow decisions of the Council of Ministers, not the other way around, I am unclear why Article 50 should be different.

But if our eminent friends are right, I’m not sure it matters. I rather think Parliament will respect the vote, not the lawyers. Cognisant perhaps that the public reaction to the use of clever legal tactics to subvert a democratic vote on the manifesto pledge of an elected Government, would not be good. It would provide cause to extremists. And boost the prospects of UKIP to start winning seats from the mainstream. Not so much silly as deeply dangerous.

Finally there is the prospects of a second General Election. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It serves the purposes of neither the Labour nor Conservative parties, both of whom would be required to support it to get around the Fixed Term Parliament Act. The new Prime Minister, whoever that is will not want to add to Brexit jitters by throwing political uncertainty back into the mix.

We are then looking at a 2020 election. With at least one progressive Party, the Liberal Democrats running on a ticket to reverse the result. The ’48-percent’ strategy. To which I say good luck. It is a perfectly honourable position to take. And one I took myself when running the Pro Euro Conservative Party in the 1999 European elections. But we got 1.6% of the national vote.

The issue with the ‘EUKIP’ strategy is that shy of this referendum period membership of the EU is rarely in the top ten issues people care about. By 2020, apart from the legal problem that article 50 will have been initiated and is not supposed to be either possible to halt or reverse, will people still care?

Far fewer people than the Leave majority were so exercised by this issue this weekend, that they attended reverse the result events. This is very far then from the kind of protest movement that changes policy, let alone wins elections. And this is likely the period of peak anger. The grinding slog of exit talks are more likely to bore people into indifference, than lead to a revolt.

What the weekend looked like then is the sort of protest we observed in 1999 from the eurosceptic Democracy Movement (hence the provocative title of this piece). A coalition of the truly committed, assembled in Trafalgar Square, talking to people who agreed with them. Mostly ignored.

It will certainly boost LD activist numbers, for now, but many will flounce off again when they realise most party political work involves community engagement on new playgrounds and dog poo, not grand rallies to restore the CAP.

That said the idea is neither silly nor dangerous, but I strongly suspect doomed to fail. In exactly the same way the PECP did. Rather than succeed in reverse like UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats are not I think quite as prepared as UKIP to become a single-issue party, prepared to slog at this for 20 years. They will be back to post offices, identity politics, and climate campaigns before the Brexit process is over.

Not least because UKIP itself, having won, is likely to try and retain their third party position by becoming a wider populist protest movement. While Labour is hell bent (at the moment) on being a sorta-liberal demos party, not a party of Government. What space in that for Paddy’s metropolitan commandos?

In a nutshell then. I’ve seen nothing in the last two weeks that convinces me that there’s a better option for Remainers than getting on with it. Getting the best deal possible for Britain as an open society outside the EU, with the cards we’ve been dealt. Not refighting the battle we just lost.

Time to move on. Respect the outcome. Win the peace.

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