David Miliband is right – there is a growing democratic vacuum at the heart of Brexit that needs to be filled, writes Conor Pope
It is easy to forget that the prospect of a two-part referendum was not the brainchild of proselytising Europhiles. Back in 2015, the two main proponents of a ‘second referendum’ were Dominic Cummings, who had already signed up to work on the putative ‘Leave’ campaign, and Boris Johnson, who was so taken by the notion that he eventually signed up himself.
Initially, those supporting a Leave vote who trumpeted the idea wanted to make the first referendum appear a less drastic measure, and reduce some of the risk associated with leaving.
Following the result, however, it felt as though the idea was only supported by people who want to stay in at all cost, and damn to the first referendum.
The problem with both of those was that they appeared – fairly or unfairly – purely political positions adopted to increase the chances of them getting their way.
It is an unattractive reason to come to any conclusion. You only need to look at the standard of political discourse right now to see that. No one seems capable of taking anyone else’s views at face value; whether it be Venezuela, the single market, or opposing fascism, everyone is seen to possess an ulterior motive, and their public opinion is simply a Potemkin village to disguise their ugly true feelings.
Some clearly believe that everyone who still raises the subject of a second vote falls into the latter camp: a centrist, establishment ‘Remoaner’, who bristles at the thought public opinion may be considered more important than their own.
However, there has now been a genuine shift in the democratic nature of Brexit. The prime minister who promised to deliver on the result of the referendum resigned as soon as the verdict was delivered, and the one who replaced him went to the country looking for a mandate, only to be stripped of one. She will not now fight another election from Downing Street, and may even be out before the two-year timer on article 50 runs out.
That, then, does leave a democratic deficit in forthcoming negotiations that needs to be filled somehow. Otherwise, as former foreign secretary David Miliband identified this weekend, the whole thing becomes a ‘stitch-up’ towards the agenda of whichever Tory happens to be in the negotiating hot seat at the time. Miliband is now coming under fire for his conclusion that ‘it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.’ The Express was particularly unhappy yesterday, asking: ‘not the right result first time Dave?’
But ‘Dave’, as I suspect no one as ever called him, is right. I supported a referendum for years. Not because I thought that ‘Remain’ would win (although I did), but because there was a real democratic disconnect between our political institutions and electorate that, if left unchecked, could cause ruptures in our politics. There was real, tangible changes to the Europe we had voted to join in 1975 and the one that existed in 2016. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a growing democratic gap between last year’s vote for action and the end result.
Britain is not taking back control; it is losing it.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
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