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The Case for a Second EU Referendum is now compelling

Theresa May’s reshuffled Cabinet, 10 July. Copyright © 2018 Downing Street

Even if, following the departures of David Davis and Boris Johnson (and a minor slew of lesser Tories), Theresa May can impose a workable degree of collective responsibility on her new-look Cabinet….even if, as reported by BBC News (2018b), the 1922 Committee has yet to receive the full 48 letters from MPs required to trigger a ‘no confidence’ vote in her as leader of the Conservatives…even if there are no more big name resignations…the chances of May’s compromise fudge, supposedly accepted by all Cabinet members at Chequers last Friday (6 August), forming a viable starting point for negotiating the UK’s future relationship with the European Union are minimal. As Kirsty Hughes of the Scottish Centre for European Relations explained to The National’s Emer O’Toole“This is the cherry picking that the EU has made clear will not be allowed to proceed…[the EU] will not go for such cherry-picking of the single market and the four freedoms.”

The UK leaving the EU with no trade deal will indeed hurt companies in a number of member states. However, as been widely and consistently reported – eg: Paul Withers (2018a) in the Daily Express – for Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the integrity of the single market and the upholding of the ‘4 Freedoms’ is more important than the even their own countries’ economies taking a sizeable hit.

And then there is the trouble that Davis and, in particular, Johnson are going to cause May from the backbenches – most likely in a series of unholy alliances with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Bill Cash.

Brexit is an ideology, Brexit is a con
Johnson’s emotive discourse in his resignation letter is particularly interesting, saying the “dream is dying” (BBC News, 2018c). Brexit as a ‘dream’ end state means Brexit, in Johnson’s head,, is an ideology. Whether Johnson quite believes his own rhetoric is a moot point – after all, ahead of the 2016 referendum he wrote articles both for and against staying in the EU, eventually publishing the latter and putting the former away in a drawer (as reported by Reuters’ Estelle Shirbon later that year). So Johnson may not actually believe in Brexit – certainly not to the extent he says he does – but the super-ambitious RED/orange vMEME harmonic running his head can certainly see that, championing something so many people want so badly, could be a very useful step on his road to power.

And, as so often with ideologues, the costs of fulfilling the dream are minimised – the complexities of the Irish border issue reduced to the simplicity of the London congestion charge (as reported by The Independent’s Joe Watts, 2018a) – or dismissed as unimportant – ‘Fuck business!” (Robert Shrimsley, Financial Times).

(In this sense, Merkel and Macron can also be portrayed as ideologues in their devotion to the single market and the 4 freedoms.)

But, if Brexit is ideology, it is also a con. As hypothesised in How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats…, Brexit is one strand of an anti-regulatory movement by the Plutocracy to roll back regulatory frameworks and break up regulatory bodies, in the interests of removing obstacles to ever greater wealth creation for themselves. In the United States, the Trump administration had got rid of 860 Obama-era regulations by October 2017  (reported by the Washington Times’ Sally Persons). In Europe, removing profit-restricting regulations is a harder ask precisely because the EU has a super-national role in business, health & safety, environmental and employment-related regulation. No wonder Rupert Murdoch has stated explicitly he wants to see the EU broken up! (Anthony Hilton, 2016).

Further evidence of the anti-regulatory agenda behind Brexit comes from arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg who, in an astonishingly-unguarded commentary back in December 2016, told the Treasury Select Committee the UK  could cut environmental and safety standards “a very long way” once it had left the EU – adding that regulations that were “good enough for India” could be good enough for the UK (reported by The Independent’s Jon Stone, 2016b).  (Rees-Mogg is involved in hedge fund management, capital investment and offshore tax havens; he was estimated by David Oldroyd-Bolt in 2016 to be worth £100M – though this would make him only a member of the Elite, not a true plutocrat, according to Guy Standing, 2014.)

Of course, the plutocrats and their Elite lackeys in the media have capitalised on the disenfranchisement and disempowerment of the traditional white working classes – the so-called ‘left behind’. The right-wing media have encouraged them to blame immigrants for stealing their jobs – the irony being that it’s actually the plutocrats’ transnational corporations which have taken their jobs away, shipping them overseas in search of lower wages and weaker regulation. (See: the New International Division of Labour.) From seeing immigration as the problem, the media extend that to the EU and its insistence on ‘freedom of movement’ which have facilitated immigrants stealing their jobs. While Brexit has been the greatest manifestation of this in Europe (so far), anti-immigrant/anti-EU sentiment has been developed by Elite-sponsored movements and media in Austria, Italy and the Eastern European EU states – and even France and Germany. In the US, anti-immigrant sentiment was manipulated so successfully, Donald Trump, an ostentatiously-wealthy member of the Elite, was elected. In Gravesian terms, this is hideously-unhealthy ORANGE manipulating PURPLE tribalism for its own ends.

This cultivation of nationalism and populism by the plutocrats and their Elite lackeys has now disenfranchised the liberal middle classes and made mockery of expertise and informed opinion. It has produced serious spikes in racism and hate crime and dumbed down political debate to the level of mob rule. When the Daily Mail – under the control of the Elite’s Jonathan Harmsworth (worth £1BN in 2016, according to Brittaney Kiefer) – got away with declaring judges of the Supreme Court ‘Enemies of the People’ in November 2016 because they upheld constitutional law and  attorney general Jeremy Wright would not defend them, that was a clear indication of the norms of a modern democratic state being subverted to an ideology.


A divided kingdom
Personally I have never seen the United Kingdom so disunited and bitterly divided as the Brexit issue has led us to become. Not the 1970s industrial disputes culminating in the so-called ‘winter of discontent’…not the Miner’s Strike in the 80s…not the anti-poll tax campaigns (and riots) of the early 90s. Our kingdom is arguably at its most fractious and turned in against itself since World War II.

I myself am a passionate Remainer. For all the reasons outlined in Why Brexit makes Me SO ANGRY!! this is personal. I feel threatened by the economic and social malaise Brexit threatens to hurl us into…a degree of which is already creeping upon us. (Lower than anticipated growth figures, London-based European agencies relocating to the continent, car manufacturers looking to move production, lower inward investment, etc, etc…) I loathe Theresa May for her incompetence and appeasement of the Brexiteers so she can cling to power.  Clearly she is almost totally dominated by the RED vMEME. However, though her reported reluctance to risk the union with Northern Ireland through a hard border – even to the point of standing up to Rees-Mogg in May (Sam Coates et al in The Times) and now the current fudge proposing regulatory alignment on goods but not services- indicates there may be some BLUE still active in her vMEME stack. Likewise, I loathe David Davis for his carefree attitude towards his own incompetence. I  loathe Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, both RED-driven opportunitsts. Johnson for his lies, his malevolent buffoonery and his repeatedly bringing shame on our once-great country; Gove for his reckless dismissal of ‘experts’ and undermining of their informed opinion that Brexit will be  a disaster for the European Union and a catastrophe for the UK

And I loathe Jeremy Corbyn for his sacrificing of the working classes of our kingdom for his long-cherished dream of the UK leaving the EU.

I understand that there is real and visceral hatred of the EU and what it represents amongst a small number of ‘nationalists’ amongst all classes. I understand that many in what could be termed the traditional white working classes have become that ‘left-behind’ as globalisation has taken their jobs overseas – and they resent the EU as a facilitator of globalisation.

I understand only too well that these resentments have been manipulated by the Elite owners of the media in service of the Plutocracy. And I loathe those in the 1% who are so bent on increasing their own wealth that they will manipulate and sacrifice the ordinary people – the ‘little people’ – via the repeal of healthy & safety, employment and environmental protection legislation. I understand that, for them, the EU and its regulations are a key target to be destroyed.

Of course, there is much wrong with the EU that needs to be addressed – as I discussed in Whither the EU..? – but the EU has fulfilled its initial and primary purpose: facilitating peace in Europe – see The REAL Reason for Staying in the EU. I’m with Gordon Brown who made this powerful and passionate video under the title of ‘Lead, Not Leave’…


The UK should be one of the  most potent leaders in the EU, helping shape the reforms which are so necessary if the EU is going to continue to bring peace and prosperity to its peoples.

Instead the UK is on its way out in an act of national gross self-harm – an act which will also harm Europe and have detrimental effects right around the world.

The UK itself has become divided into Remainers and Leavers. (Though there are also those who are bored with the whole thing and those who aren’t – and never were – bothered either way.) This is an acting out of Social Identity Theory where simple division into 2 identities lays the seeds for conflict – the in-group/out-group effect. As the post-Brexit economy fails and social divisions widen as resources become more scarce and more expensive, what looks like Social Identity Theory in action is more likely to resemble Realistic Conflict Theory when there really is more to fight about than memes of identity. Expect civil unrest and yet more hate crime and violence as the economy weakens and weakens. At the time of Tony Blair’s departure from government in 2007, the UK was the second richest country in the world by GDP, according to the World Bank. In chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond’s November 2017 budget, he could only estimate the UK to be the sixth biggest economy in the world. Commenting on this for CNN Money, Alanna Petroff attributed the decline almost exclusively to Brexit: “The slide reflects a sharp deceleration in Britain’s economic growth since it voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. The pound has weakened dramatically, consumer spending has slowed and prices have spiked.”

The case for a second referendum
Theresa May has promised Parliament ‘a meaningful say’ on the terms of the final deal – if any – she brings back from Brussels before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. Quite what ‘a meaningful say’ means, how long before 29 March that ‘say’ would take place and what would happen if Parliament didn’t like the deal appear to be complete unknowns.

But, given just how divided the kingdom is and given the parlous state of the Government, can such a say be left to Parliament?  Should it be left to Parliament?

The decision to leave was made via a referendum Parliament approved as an advisory plebiscite – see below.


Via a leaflet sent to every household in the UK, David Cameron’s government advised voters the referendum result would be taken as binding – in violation of what Parliament had approved. Since her assumption to the premiership, Theresa May has indeed treated the referendum result as an instruction, with much talk about fulfilling ‘the will of the people’. In fact, since the the margin to leave was less than 4% on a voter turnout of just over 72%, talk of it being the ‘will of the people’ to leave the EU is spurious in the extreme.

Now we know much more about what Brexit will mean  – and indeed are already experiencing some detrimental effects – would the electorate vote differently if given another referendum?:

Polling expert John Curtice (2018a) advised this February that there does indeed now appear to be a small majority in favour of staying in the EU. More Leavers have changed their minds than have Remainers but the biggest change seems to be amongst those who didn’t vote in 2016. Many of these, now alarmed at the way Brexit seems to be going, have said they would vote to remain if given another chance.

With the kingdom so divided and the Government in a shambles, a sensible way out of the mess would be to have a second referendum, based around the best deal May can get, in good time to reverse Brexit if that were shown to be ‘the will of the people’. (This, of course, does assume May can get some kind of deal.)

Given the continuing and ever more intense Brexit debate, even Nigel Farage has said a second referendum might be necessary! See: Just what is Nigel Farage upto?

Conducting a second referendum
A second referendum should have 4 choices:-

  1.  Accept the deal May has got and leave the EU on those terms
  2. Leave the EU without a deal
  3. Remain in the EU
  4. Remain in the EU with a commitment to reform it from the inside

An ‘alternative vote’ system should be used so that voters can also indicate their second favourite option – so the vote is not a simple either/or choice but is rather more nuanced – hopefully producing rather more nuanced arguments than were made in 2016.  The aim, through such a system, would be to produce at least a 10% gap between the winning option and the next closest option. Such a gap should give a much clearer idea of what ‘the will of the people’ actually is. (A 10% gap should be the minimum bar for making such major constitutional change.)

Of course, if my hypothesis about the plutocrats and their Elite lackeys using Brexit for their deregulatory agendas is correct, then we can expect them to throw everything they’e got at manipulating the vote again.

The Electoral Reform Society’s verdict on the 2016 referendum was ‘dire’, according to The Guardian’s Rajeev Syal. Both sides were found to have made misleading and confusing statements, though it was the Leave campaign who drew the brunt of the report’s criticism. Poor controls enabled the RED of campaigners like Johnson, Gove and Farage – and, to be fair, Remain-supporting then-chancellor George Osborne – to say whatever they thought would carry the day without being accountable for the veracity of their statements.

If a second referendum were to be run, Parliament would need to enact legal safeguards to prevent wildly inaccurate or distorted reports in the media. Equally the campaigns would need daily scrutiny by an independent body – perhaps seconded from the United Nations diplomatic corps who could be perceived to have no vested interest in the outcome of the referendum. False claims would need to be corrected as soon as possible and with maximum publicity. Campaigners would need to face the prospect of being barred from participating if they were found to be guilty of multiple offences. To keep RED in check, strict BLUE-derived rules would need to be enforced with ruthless efficiency.

In the end, if such a referendum produced a convincing Leave vote of 10+%, then Remainers would have to accept that leaving the EU and undoubtedly becoming poorer really was ‘the will of the people’. Hopefully, with a more level playing field – ie: less distorted media influence – and much more information about what Brexit would actually entail, the Remainers could make a convincing argument for staying in the EU.

The result – either way – would always be deeply unsatisfying for the real extremists; but it may well be the only way to bring the majority of people in the UK behind the decision, what ever that might be.



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3 Responses

  1. Keith E Rice says

    Dave, I couldn’t agree more with your description of Cameron’s referendum: “a preposterous vanity exercise and mis-calculated gamble by an incompetent Prime Minister. An issue of such gravity and consequence should never have been taken based on a simple yes/no vote.”

    However, I’m baffled by some of your other points.

    From a briefish Google, I cannot find anything in which membership of the EU itself poses difficulties in obtaining union recognition. Indeed, this History & Policy Trade Union Forum article charts how TUC support for the EU developed. Indeed, given the strategic role unions are allowed and encouraged to undertake in Germany, it would seem bizarre for the EU to restrict union activity except in things like secondary picketing.

    Re-nationalisation does seem a more vexed issue, with strong views on both sides. This Guardian article certainly takes the view that being in the EU is not incompatible with nationalisation.

    I accept it’s a given that formal state aid has to be restricted to create a level playing field across the single market – though some governments seem able to find innovative ways around many of the restrictions. (ORANGE will usually leave BLUE trying to plug loopholes!)

    It’s precisely because of the overwhelming nature of the 2 identities – Leaver and Remainer – and the strength of emotions incorporated in those labels that I no longer think we can leave it to Parliament to decide on the final deal – if there is one. There is a very strong likelihood an unwhipped Parliament would either insist on a soft Brexit or reject Brexit altogether.

    A manipulated referendum got the UK into this almighty mess. A more unmanipulated referendum might just get us out of it.

  2. David Burnby says

    Interesting, well-argued and thorough piece tainted only by the expressed personal loathing of specified politicians on both sides of the house that I feel potentially undermines the rationality of the rest of the argument. But I appreciate you’re a bit cross about all this…

    As a Remainer, I’ve long since moved on from the referendum: a preposterous vanity exercise and mis-calculated gamble by an incompetent Prime Minister. An issue of such gravity and consequence should never have been taken based on a simple yes/no vote. Of course voters were misled – they always are. Untruths and broken promises are well established characteristics of democracy of any kind. Consistent with my view of the inappropriateness of referendums as a substitute for political leadership, I don’t want to see another one. I want to see political leadership following a vision for life outside of the EU. I voted remain, not out of love for the EEC but because on a fine balance I felt the current political status of the UK and the ideology underpinning its governance made for an unhealthy climate to negotiate a withdrawal.
    As a socialist, I recognise how EU rules strangle the ability of the Labour Party to fully recognise its manifesto aspirations in terms of State Aid, procurement and nationalisation. These are the regulations that maintain the owners of capital’s ability to exploit the freedom of movement of Labour and maintain the power of multi-national corporations creaming off profits from public utilities and other industries. For me, it isn’t Brexit that threatens to create ‘.. the economic and social malaise..’ you refer to: it’s the Tory Government.

    I’m not interested in another referendum, not least because there is little evidence anything would change – either way it wouldn’t be a convincing majority in my view. I’m interested in bringing down this awful government and trying to repair the damage started by Thatcher and wilfully continued by Blair with their poisonous neo-liberal agenda. It was Thatcher that started to drive the wedge into the heart of the country. Brexit is only another symptom of the schism. The Miner’s Strike; The Falklands; the Poll Tax; we have a history of division. The difference I feel now is that the division is characterised by single issues rather than political identity. You’re either a Brexiter or a Remainer, not a Tory or a Socialist, and within those divisions is very little political analysis. Voting Remain doesn’t necessarily mean you support big business and rampant profiteering by the EU Business Club. Voting Brexit doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a racist xenophobe. The labels mask or distort the ideology behind them. I think it’s time to forget these objects of division and focus on political ideology.

    We know what the Tories represent. We’ve seen what their values result in whether that’s the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell Tower tragedy; homeless rough sleepers; all symptomatic of the punishing impact of 10 years of austerity and the obsession with market forces.

    Presenting Labour Party policy and values is at the mercy of the ‘plutocrat’s lackies’ as you put it, the establishment media that distorts and misrepresents the Labour Party’s manifesto. My belief is that Britain is safe outside of the EC under a Corbyn led Labour Government, free to engage in a bold industrial development policy, protecting our key industries through public investment, particularly in the ravaged manufacturing heartlands of the industrial North, Wales and Scotland. EU regulations currently prevent such a strategy. Similarly, EU regulations limit the UK’s ability to transform economic policy to support British industry through procurement. We cannot build into contract specifications trade union recognition, conditions around wage disparities or prompt payment conditions (bad debts from major contractors being a cancer to small business) for example. Yes, there are some EU conditions that can be applied, but only in the context of neo-liberal prerequisites such as “the most economically advantageous tender”. The EU is in my view a major agent in the creeping privatisation of the NHS as health care is regarded as an “economic activity” and subject to the same procurement rules which will severely hamper the re-nationalisation of the significant number of contracts awarded to the private sector. And of course, EU regulations severely limit the UK government’s ability to re-nationalise public services and utilities. All this helps to explain what you describe as “Corbyn’s long cherished dream” which is absolutely not about “sacrificing of the working classes of our kingdom” (I can’t actually believe you wrote that with your tongue outside of your cheek!) it’s about protecting and restoring workers’ rights.

    My message is: forget the referendum and focus instead on the policies and values that will revitalise UK industry, turn back the tide of austerity, and protect our NHS. (For the many not the few as we like to say). I’ll leave the psychological analysis of the necessary leadership qualities to you though I hope you’ll agree that whilst Corbyn demonstrates he’s a second tier thinker, May is stuck in her Red/Blue vMeme rut.

  3. Steve Gorton says

    Another well argued blog – thanks Keith.

    You might have included the potential issues of first referendum unfairly influenced and Vote Leave breaking electoral law (still to come to court and thus proven)?