Last week I started a petition on the House of Commons petition website calling for a referendum on the final Brexit deal (see details further down). This is why I think such a referendum is a necessary part of the democratic process.
In June 2016, the British people voted in an advisory referendum on remaining or leaving the European Union. By 51.9% to 48.1% the UK public chose to support leaving the EU. In March 2017, Theresa May's Government triggered Article 50 and set in motion the process for leaving the European Union.
But let us go back a few months. In February 2016, David Cameron's government negotiated an EU reform deal that included: a seven-year emergency brake that would allow the restriction of in-work benefits to EU migrants for four years; exclusion for the UK from the EU's goal of 'ever-closer union'; stronger protections from Eurozone country regulations; and limits to child benefits sent abroad. The British public, entering the voting booths in June 2016, knew what a 'Remain' vote entailed.
What they did not know was what a 'Leave' vote entailed. By April 2019 they should. The Conservative government is currently trying to negotiate a deal with the EU. This deal aims to address the 'divorce' bill, trade agreements for goods and services, single market access, financial regulation, the status of UK/EU citizens living abroad, border controls and much, much more. Whatever is in that final agreement - if one can be reached - is likely to be unpalatable for many, whether they voted for 'Leave' and 'Remain'. There will be voters who believe the UK would be better off leaving with no agreement rather than take the one on the table. Similarly, there will some 'Leave' voters who find the final agreement so disagreeable, and the 'no deal' alternative so risky, that they would prefer to remain in the EU after all. This is not to say those people made the wrong choice in 2016, but that they made a decision in 2016 without the full facts of the realities of Brexit. Conversely, it is conceivable that an excellent deal in 2019 might convince some original 'Remain' voters that accepting a deal would be a better option.
The reasons people voted 'Leave' or 'Remain' in 2016 varied from one person to the next. For this reason, different aspects of the deal being negotiated will be important to different people. For example, contrary to promises by some politicians that the UK would receive a windfall of £350m per week that could be spent on the NHS, it is likely that the UK will pay a large 'divorce' bill (to settle its EU liabilities). Should the UK and EU negotiate a divorce bill of €60 billion, this would cost each British household over €2,000. For some, this is an acceptable cost for Brexit, for others it is not. The final amount negotiated will affect whether people would prefer to take the deal and leave the EU, reject the deal and leave the EU, or remain within the EU - and people can only make that choice when the final deal is known.
Similarly, some people would rather leave the EU without a deal than accept freedom of movement. Some people would rather remain in the EU than take a deal which lacked a comprehensive trade agreement for selling our goods and services into EU markets. Some people would rather accept a bad deal than take no deal at all, and others would prefer to take a good deal than stay within the EU. Different people have different red lines, and the only way the British public can make a meaningful, informed decision on this issue is to do so once the final deal is known. Then, and only then, must the British people vote on their future.
I do not want to re-run the 2016 referendum, but just as a vote of the people started this process, so one should end it. This time there must be not two, but three options. I have submitted the following proposal to the House of Commons petition website:
In a straight vote of these three options it is likely that the 'Leave' vote would be split and the 'Remain' vote would win. That would not do British democracy justice. As far as I can see, the Single Transferable Vote (the system used in our mayoral elections) would offer the fairest way to choose between these three options without biasing in favour of 'Leave' or 'Remain'.
Brexit is the single most important event since we joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Its impact will be felt for generations. Only when a final deal is known, will the British public be in a position to make an informed choice about the future of their country. Parliament must allow them that choice.
If you believe, as I do, that the people must have the final say on Brexit, I urge you to sign this petition.