Friday, 5 April 2019

'Honouring the outcome'

At the heart of the PM’s demand that other parties back her deal is the idea that the way people voted should be respected.  After all, according to her, not only did the leavers win the referendum, but in 2017 the voters went on to back, overwhelmingly, the Labour and Conservative parties, both of which published election manifestos which committed to delivering Brexit.
Up to a point, her argument has some validity – but as is invariably the case with Theresa May, even when she’s telling the truth (infrequent as that may be), she can only ever manage part of the truth.  So, she’s right when she says that a 52:48 vote in favour of a vague undefined Brexit means that people voted to leave, under the rules of the referendum as they were agreed.  There was a considerable amount of law-breaking and dishonesty, true enough, and the vote was only ever supposed to be ‘advisory’: but in essence, it’s hard to argue against the idea that it delivered a mandate for ‘leaving the EU’.
But when it comes to the terms of departure, or the type of Brexit, her argument promptly falls apart.  Since her party is in government, and that party’s manifesto stated clearly that Brexit means leaving both the Customs Union and the Single Market, she demands that others must fall into line.  However, the electoral mandate which she claims for that is a good deal less clear cut than the electoral mandate for the principle of Brexit.  Because even if the referendum never spelt out the meaning of ‘Leave’, the parties' manifestos in 2017 did.  So, although the electorate weren’t given a choice between types of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, they were given such a choice in the 2017 election, and the PM’s refusal to consider the content of more than one of those manifestos is part of the problem in reaching any sort of consensus.  Her party may be the largest party by votes and seats, but in terms of electoral mandate, the position is rather more complex.
Under the rules which are used in the UK for General Elections, the percentages of votes cast show that the Tories, on a manifesto of 'no Customs Union, no Single Market', gained 42.3% of the vote.  That means that her party’s vision of what Brexit should be was rejected by the electorate on a roughly 58:42 split – a significantly bigger margin than backed Brexit in the first place.  Whilst Labour’s manifesto equally clearly stated that the party would respect the result of the referendum, it also said that any agreement reached by the party would emphasise “retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”.  Applying the percentages of votes once more, Labour’s proposed Brexit model was rejected by a margin of 60:40. 'Our proposal was rejected by a smaller margin than yours' doesn't strike me as the most compelling argument for a particular course of action.  As far as I’m aware, no party represented in parliament proposed the ‘no deal’ option being pushed now by more than half of the Tory MPs, which means that not only are they ignoring their own manifesto commitment, they are also demanding an outcome on which precisely zero MPs were elected in 2017.
Since neither manifesto gained the party presenting it a majority in terms of seats – let alone in terms of votes – any agreement between them means that at least one of the parties must move away from what their manifesto said.  It’s been obvious for some time that the PM’s idea of ‘compromise’ is that it’s something that everyone else must do because she’s the PM, but there is no way politically that Labour can fall in with that (even if, as many of us suspect, Corbyn would quite like to do so); they have to be seen to be getting at least one major concession to their position.  Personally, I still doubt that anything much will come from the talks; I suspect that May’s real objective is simply to pile even more pressure on the dissidents in her own party (although her approach continues to look counter-productive in that regard) but leave herself in a position to then blame Labour if that fails.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a compromise of some sort does miraculously emerge, under which she drops her opposition to a Customs Union and Labour drop their insistence on remaining close to the Single Market (or some other combination of rubbed out red lines).  What that will mean is that the deal which parliament will then be asked to vote on is one which was not only not on the table in the 2016 referendum, it was also an option which nobody was even given the option of supporting in the 2017 election.  In effect, the outcome of the PM’s demand that what the people voted for must be delivered would become an argument that what no-one voted for must be delivered, and that it must be delivered without asking what the people think because they’ve already told us that.  It’s a very strange definition of ‘democracy’ and makes a complete mockery of the PM's demand that the ‘will of the people’ must be delivered, even if it were possible to believe that the ‘will of the people’ had not changed one iota in three years.  At the very least, it's a highly selective way of 'honouring the outcome'.


Anonymous said...

Slowly I'm coming round to the idea of a second referendum. But not a simple in/out, rather a more detailed vote 'this for this', 'that for that', 'that for this' or 'this for that'. There should be no problem with the Electoral Commission, we are always beeing told we are now so much more informed than in the past.

The BREXITeer's have shown they haven't much idea. But I suspect when we ask the REMAINer's to confirm what remain really means, remain outside of the EURO, remain outside of SCHENGEN, remain outside of a European military, remain outside of financial derivative restrictions, remain outside of climate control restrictions and so on this supposedly unified vote will fracture, if only because we do not know if such 'opt out's' will continue to be tolerated indefinitely.

All sides in any new referendum, which in itself represents a real test to our democratic instincts and our long-standing social and political structures, need to be rigorously tested.

I suspect we'll end up with another deadlock. What should we do then?

John Dixon said...

"I suspect we'll end up with another deadlock." I'm not so sure about that. I suspect that the result will still be close - probably closer than a lot of Remainers are assuming - but any government will have little choice at that stage but to implement whatever the majority vote for, however defective such majoritarianism is, so 'deadlock' is the wrong term at that point. If it's 'remain', then the issue subsides, for a while at least; if leave, then at least there will have been a clear 'leave' option on the ballot and everyone knows what has been voted for. In neither case does the issue entirely go away; the losing side has every right (and will presumably exercise that right) to continue seeking to persuade others that a different decision would have been better, and that the result can be reversed (or un-reversed!).

"What should we do then?" That is the more important question, by far, and the one where I have least confidence of any real resolution. We 'should' learn some lessons about the way democracy works in the UK and seek to change it. As posted previously, the 'winner takes all' approach of a majoritarian system has a lot to answer for. Under a proportional system, it would have been much harder for such a referendum to be called in the first place, requiring rather more up-front debate and discussion. And no government should ever give people an option on the ballot which that government is not then prepared to enact (which is what Cameron did), or for which no clear parliamentary majority is available. Those who want to argue for a change in whatever decision is taken in the forthcoming referendum should first need to persuade enough people to vote for a parliamentary majority committed to their view before a referendum to confirm a specific proposal is held. Using a referendum in a way which ties (or attempts to tie) the hands of parliamentarians in a representative democracy to do something which they believe to be against the interests of the people they represent is asking for trouble and conflict.

Spirit of BME said...

As you know, as a bored observer of those who are in the trenches in the battle for the survival of the UK and the current regime, I am appalled at the quality of information from both sides of the argument, whose only pitch is to stick to Uncle Joe Goebbels dictum -if you tell a lie, make it a big one.
Getting so upset by the quality of the treaty, is not that important as most powerful countries break them in time to suit their purpose. The UK on entering the Common Market broke (or put aside) the long-standing trade deals with the Empire/Commonwealth, because they could. France is an expert at this and even “forgets” to enforce parts of EU directives that it does not like, because it can.
Now I am sure when the UK abandons any future treaty, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of international bankers and diplomats who live in Holland Park by the time the pudding arrives at their dinner parties, but who cares – nobody is sent to jail.
On the issue of what does OUT mean, I saw last week a recording of Little Spliff Cameron`s (The King of the Suits and Luvvies) God ,how I miss him; make the announcement of the referendum in which he said “ it`s a simple question of IN or OUT” he went on to say latter “the question is IN or completely OUT”, so the debate should be not about what OUT ,but what does completely OUT means!!?
If we apply reverse logic to events and remain won, would we have had three years of debate of what IN meant (Anonymous touches on this) but I cannot come up with a different meaning to IN, so if I accept that, then OUT is the opposite – I hope you are still with me.
The Brexit Mob -the Bus Boys (Gove, Johnson and The Mogg) also qualified it some weeks before the vote, by saying that voting OUT meant out of the single market and customs union. When the question was put to the vote the rule of Caveat Emptor – Buyer beware or Voter beware should always apply, as both sides carried out the political rule of “talk a lot, say nothing “as all decisions have consequences, but those consequences like the impact of the Lisbon Treaty in 2020 and 2022 or the Irish boarder were not aired, as both sides were so focused on closing down the debate and no real questioning was conducted.

John Dixon said...


I agree that Cameron and others did indeed talk about leave meaning 'completely' out, but other leave campaigners said some rather different things (like having 'the exact same benefits' for instance). That highlights the difficulty of reducing a complex decision which inevitably involves a whole series of trade-offs to a binary question; something which Cameron only did because it never crossed his mind that the result would be the 'wrong' one.

You refer to 'the impact of the Lisbon Treaty in 2020 or 2022' - what do you mean by that? The Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009; the list of all the horrible things due to follow in 2020 which is doing the rounds is, I'm afraid, just another set of lies told by leavers.

Spirit of BME said...

The information I got on the Treaty started by the usual bar and locker room talk by OUT supporters banging- on about things ,I have not seen the list, but of late I have spent more hours than I should have being bored by these people and I am turning into a “Dear Bill” character and taking the opposite view to them, just for the fun of it.
I spoke to a lawyer friend (please do not mention, that I know lawyers to anyone – ghastly people) who dabbles in EU issues and he advised that the Treaty sets out the development of structures that enables closer integration of the project, with review dates (not targets) of progress, - but therein lies the seeds of conspiracy.
There are two areas that are highlighted the first being foreign relationship and the role of the EU “Foreign Office” which is now recognised internationally by their work in Ukraine and Iran and what the UN might consider as duplication of two (current) members on the Security Council.
The second issue is the EU wish to establish a defence capability and much work has been done on this of late, the issue here is that as two (current) members have nuclear strike capability, where should that sit and will the EU have the authority in the future to abolish these weapons.
The projection of those supporting integration is to make the EU a world power and get to sit on the Top Table and a nuclear capability, I would guess does give you a better chance, so to the person who is given the task to get France to hand over the keys and codes of their weapons – Good luck with that!!
In the interest of being brief, I clearly threw some dates in without being specific and that was a mistake.

John Dixon said...

"I clearly threw some dates in without being specific" Indeed. But you also attributed the changes which you fear to the 'Lisbon Treaty', where, I believe, precisely none of this is to be found. I don't doubt that there are those in the EU who do indeed rather like the idea of closer integration, including on defence issues, and even potentially including taking control of the UK and French weapons of mass destruction. But I think you may be conflating the aspirations of some individuals with what the 'EU' wants. In reality, when it comes to defining the future, 'the EU' is nothing more than the sum of the parts, and most EU member states have no interest in much of the agenda which you outline.

I'll forgive you for knowing a few lawyers (and even admit to knowing a few myself), but I'm afraid that I see 'a lawyer friend told me...' as a bit like saying 'this bloke down the pub said...'. If you can point to a specific part of the Lisbon Treaty that supports what you say here, then of course I'm open to be convinced, but as any lawyer would surely confirm, hearsay evidence ain't proof.

Gav said...

Probably a waste of time.

"The Lisbon treaty says ..... " is a meme that's been going the rounds for a while. I first heard it myself back in January, from one of my in-laws. So, pulled the thing up on Wikisource and read it through with him. Took a while, but then we didn't have anything else to do.

Outcome was he flatly refused to believe that what his mate or whoever (he didn't say it was a lawyer) had told him wasn't true, despite the evidence in front of him.