A People’s Vote needn’t be all about the EU

The turmoil of the last two or three years has been distressing and confusing for many people, but it has at least exposed the inadequacies of our current political system to a much wider audience. Many who previously didn’t question how our country is governed now recognise that, whatever happens with Brexit, we need fundamental change, not just in our relationship with Europe but also in the way our domestic politics works.

So why, in all the discussion of a People’s Vote, does everyone assume it must be all about our membership of the EU? Continue reading

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Could we crash out of the EU without actually leaving?

There’s been endless discussion recently of the different varieties of Brexit we might end up with, and dire warnings of what will happen if we leave without a deal. But one ominous scenario seems to have largely escaped people’s attention: what happens if we leave (with or without a deal) but the withdrawal decision is subsequently ruled invalid by the courts? In that case, we could go through the immediate turmoil of withdrawal, only to find, a few weeks or months later, that we have not in fact left. Continue reading

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Honouring the referendum without leaving the EU

The last two years have laid bare the inadequacies of our current political system and many people who were previously fairly happy with how our country is governed now recognise that, whatever happens with Brexit, we need fundamental change, not just in our relationship with Europe but also in the way our domestic politics works.

For now, though, most people find it hard to look beyond the looming deadline – and that’s a large part of why the current problem seems so intractable. Continue reading

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Would leaving the EU really honour the referendum?

The 2016 referendum feels like a long time ago now but Parliament is perhaps, at last, trying to have the discussion that (in my innocence) I’d assumed would follow the shock of the result. Is it too much to hope that, before committing ourselves irrevocably to a profoundly disruptive course of action, we might take the time to properly understand what the country voted for?

The political establishment were quick to embrace the result as the will of the people and promise that it would be respected. But that haste allowed us no time to reflect on what the vote actually told us about the public’s real wishes, no time to answer the obvious question: does that poll constitute an instruction from the public or does it simply demonstrate that the country is in two minds on the subject? Continue reading

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I’ve not posted anything here for a while, largely because I managed to switch off from politics for several months. But then last November, in the run-up to the ‘meaningful vote’ on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, my wife said she was going to write to our MP about it. So I thought maybe I should write to her as well.

So much for switching off from politics.

Anyway, four months on, after thinking about little else other than Brexit ever since, and having written letters to numerous people in the hope they might, just conceivably, take some notice of what I have to say, I decided it’s time to put up some more posts. And who knows, if I manage to catch the attention of an audience, I might start posting regularly.

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Reclaiming the Body Politic

In an afterword to my last post here I mentioned that my then MP, Stephen Phillips, had resigned (because, as he put it, he could no longer live with the label of ‘Conservative’). I did briefly contemplate standing in the subsequent by-election but (alongside the fact that I’d be totally unsuited to the role, and both I and my wife would hate me doing it) I felt that it would be pointless standing without a clear manifesto and a core of support which an unexpected by-election left no time to develop.

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Seizing the Moment

In previous posts, written a week or so after the EU referendum (A Constitutional Moment and Respecting the Result), I suggested that the Brexit vote had brought us to a constitutional crisis which had the potential to catalyse major reform both within this country and in the European Union itself.

Three months on, nobody appears to have a clear idea what happens next but people on all sides seem to be digging in to entrenched positions, much of the establishment seems to regard the vote to leave as a definitive expression of the people’s will and, with the problems the vote has brought to light in this country, popular opinion within other countries of the EU seems to have swung against their domestic anti-EU movements.

So what can we do to ensure that the constitutional moment does not slip past? How can we take advantage of the energy that the Brexit vote has released to bring about constructive reform? Continue reading

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Respecting the Result

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the importance of respecting the result of the referendum. But which result should be respected? There is, of course, the primary result of the simple count of votes cast but it is at least important, surely, to respect the secondary result, the emotional upheaval that the vote has triggered. And if the primary and secondary results are in conflict we have to choose between them.

But are they really in conflict? Does the primary result truly represent the clear mandate for Leave that most people are saying it does?

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Democratic Mandate

It seems to be widely taken for granted that the recent referendum has given government a mandate to take Britain out of the European Union. I believe that view rests on a failure to understand some crucial differences betweeen this vote and the ballot for a general election.

I’ve been advocating radical constitutional reform for twenty years or so and my core argument has been that we need to establish proper foundations of democratic accountability.  The ‘occasional democracy’ that determines who governs us seems to me to be grossly inadequate: whatever the interval is between elections it will be too short for the government to give its full attention to the job, and too long for the people to be properly sovereign. One redeeming feature of our current system, however, is the fact that we always do get another vote. We might have to wait five years but we’re not irrevocably committed to the choice we made at that one moment in time when the ballot was held.

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A Constitutional Moment

When I started this blog last year, I intended to try and pull together all the various political arguments I’ve been making in different places over the last few years. But the kind of radical constitutional reform I’ve been advocating isn’t a subject that most people want to read about and it’s disheartening writing stuff which you suspect will never be read – so my enthusiasm evaporated after a handful of posts.

But the Brexit referendum seems to have pitched us into a constitutional crisis and – who knows? – perhaps some of my ideas will now find an audience.

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