On June 23rd, 2016, more than 72% of the British population came out to vote in the Brexit referendum. The result of the referendum was a majority in favour of Britain leaving the EU. The vote was free and fair. It was British democracy in action and it yielded a clear result.
To have a second referendum would undermine British democracy. The first referendum was legitimate. The majority voted to leave. We cannot question this result or undermine it with another referendum or it would send a negative message about British democracy. Our government relies on the legitimacy of the public vote. When a prime minister is voted in, to form a cohesive and effective government, the public must accept the outcome of the vote. Not only would a second referendum undermine the British public’s decision, but it would also undermine all future political decisions made in the UK by casting doubt over the legitimacy of the public vote as a form of decision-making. Remainers will counter that it wouldn’t undermine the democratic process if a different question is put to voters at the second referendum. Many suggest that the public could simply vote whether or not to accept or reject the final terms of the agreement. But what if they public rejects the terms? Does that mean we have to accept a no-deal Brexit? Or does it mean we should scrap the whole idea of Brexit altogether and remain? It would only cause more democratic confusion. Alternatively, remainers suggest that a second referendum could expand the options presented in the first. It could offer voters the chance to vote to remain in the EU, to leave the EU with May’s deal, or leave without a deal. However, in this scenario, the winning outcome will likely gather less than 50% of the public vote. How can we suggest democracy has been served if we select an option supported by less than half of the British public? Whichever way the government packages it, a second referendum will damage British democracy, perhaps irreparably, for future generations.
There is one way around this. By giving voters a second referendum with two separate questions; one on whether or not Britain should leave the EU and one on whether or not Britain should have a soft or hard Brexit. This would preserve British democracy by ensuring the second vote is sufficiently different from the first vote. It would also mean that the “winning” option would have been approved by more than 50% of the electorate.
The stability of a modern democracy relies on the legitimacy of its voting process. To hold another vote would mean rejecting the results of 2016, which would damage British democracy.
Providing the question differs from the 2016 vote, a second referendum would not necessarily mean a rejection of the 2016 referendum, it would merely seek to further clarify the public’s position.