BY ELLIE LONGMAN-ROOD, North America Editor
In current British politics turning on the news is often followed by sighs or eye rolls once Brexit is mentioned. If the government considered people disheartened by the result in 2016, it is apparent they have now reached breaking point. This is why on the 20th October an undeniably large, but high, estimate of 700,000 people met in London to take part in the People’s Vote march. Tired of leaving decisions to Parliament, people took to the streets demanding a second vote on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union or not. In the most British manner, our discontent had united us into action. People felt let down by Politicians, and they decided to take a stand.
The immediate question is why now? Why, after 2 years, have people finally decided they have had enough. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that the date the U.K is set to leave the EU is drawing closer and closer, all the while we do not have a deal. They are claiming that it has become evident how leaving the EU will not be “the easiest deal in history” as claimed by the Leave Campaign. Nor, they claim, will it leave the country better off. All this leads to a demand for the people to have a final say on Brexit.
Whether this is realistic or not is another debate entirely. Despite their best efforts, there are still many obstacles before a people’s vote is held. It is lacking a key political figurehead in their cause. This is essential to turn the movement’s momentum into progress. From the angle of pragmatism, there’s the issue of time. The date we have to leave the EU by of March 29th 2019 is fast approaching. A second vote is not going to be a quickly organised and decided issue. Therefore, it is important to consider if this is a realistic prospect within the time restraints the U.K is in. Discussions around the vote debated that such a vote would need to be scheduled by October 9th, obviously, this has now past us. Whether this is now a reality is certainly debatable.
There is, however, a rather fundamental flaw with this. In simple terms; we already had a people’s vote, it was on the 23rd June 2016. The people had their chance to speak, and the people chose to leave the European Union with a majority of 52%. Granted, an incredibly small majority, but nonetheless a majority. It is of no surprise that this had enormous outcry from the public. Demands claiming that this is not what they wanted, or that they were lied to in campaigns. Perhaps the most infamous protest being to Vote Leave’s promise that there would be an extra £350 million for the NHS if the U.K left the European Union, only to be retracted by key figures after the referendum. It is hardly the desired characteristics of politicians to lie and deceive in order to achieve the preferred election result, however, can we truly claim to have helped the situation by doing our own research? This was a referendum, not a general election. We didn’t have party manifestos to listen to, instead there a chance to look into history and the issue surrounding our membership to the EU. Taking this on board, it is then concerning that the second most searched question on google the day after the referendum was “what is the EU?”. The very day after the nation voted on whether we continue our membership to the international organisation, a large portion of our population took to the internet to enquire what it was. This begs the question as to why we should be given a second chance. If the public were not fully engaged by a first vote, does it make sense to reward us with a second? Granting such a desire would demean the value of the first vote, deeming it a practice run. Effectively, reducing the opinions of the 52% of the nation illegitimate.
With all this discussion of our democracy, its meaning appears to have been misshapen. Britain is run on the principles of a representative democracy. In its most basic form, this means that we have the power, and privilege, to chose our elected officials. To have a say in who makes our decisions, not to make every decision ourselves. There is a logical reason for this; the British people are not experts. This is to the benefit of society. We need the different roles and personalities in order for our nation to flourish. This should not mean that by being a British citizen we automatically get a place in parliament to have a say on every issue. Explaining it this way makes it seem rather odd. Yet, having a “people’s vote” is exactly what this would imply. It sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Who is to say that if this vote is allowed, we will not start having nationwide votes on taxes or going to war. Allowing our country not be run by the party in power, but by its citizens. It reduces huge political issues to yes or no questions that would be handed to the public at large. This should not be the case as political issues deserve a far more respected approach than this.
Essentially, the demand for a people’s vote has set in motion a paradox. In calling for more say in Brexit, we place another nail in the coffin of British democracy. Our place in the EU has sparked a larger discussion of British values. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We should question what we stand for, and what is good for the nation. Without this, we could never have grown as a country. Yet, our democracy should be an enduring feature through these discussions. We have fought for it, died for it, and should never take it for granted. Having a second people’s vote is exactly what this will do.