Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why talk of a further referendum on the EU is a really bad idea

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian makes the interesting argument here that a second referendum which was about approving the terms of brexit, rather than attempting to reverse the previous referendum result, might be a good democratic idea.

He has a point in principle. but we need to bear in mind the impact that any talk of a further referendum will have on the already difficult Brexit negotiations Britain will be holding with the European Union after article 50 is triggered.

If the other EU member states, and the commission, think that Britain will be holding another plebiscite after these negotiations, and that there is any possibility whatsoever that this referendum might result in Britain not leaving after all, they will have zero incentive to offer Britain a deal worth having and a strong incentive to offer us terrible terms.

It is worth emphasising that a significant chunk of the EU's leadership and some important figures in other national capitals do not really get what happened on 23rd June and still think there is a chance that Britain's decision to leave the EU might be reversed. My concern is that anyone who talks of the possibility of a second referendum, even if they don't mean it as a way of cancelling the first one, might give those people a strengthened impression that being as difficult as possible in the negotiations will increase the chance of Britain deciding not to leave the EU after all.

I don't believe that the people who talk of a second referendum are deliberately trying to sabotage the UK's negotiating position. I do believe that if such talk were picked up and taken seriously in Brussels of the other capitals of Europe it would have that effect.

Assuming that the EU negotiators would rather Britain did not leave - a pretty safe assumption - then if we were expected to have a second referendum after the negotiations, and if people on the continent thought there was any chance that the outcome of such a referendum might be the cancellation of the decision to leave, then for the negotiators to offer the UK a truly awful Brexit deal would be the obvious way for them to try to bludgeon people into voting Remain.

The tactic almost certainly would not work, but it is in the UK's national interest to avoid any possibility of giving the impression that this tactic might work. That is why much of the talk from various quarters of a further referendum on the EU, particularly from those who are looking for a way to cancel the result of the one on 23rd June, is potentially very counterproductive.


Jim said...

Thats not actually why its a bad idea.

Ok, lets look at this. We trigger article 50 and we start to negotiate - I will assume you agree thus far.

lets say for arguments sake it takes us 20 months and 2 weeks to negotiate where we are going and we get a pretty good deal, granted not perfect, but its livable. Negotiations are, after all, give and take.

then what do we do? - well we could have a referendum, or even a vote in parliament on do we accept this deal?

Now if the answer is yes - then off we go with our new deal so far so good.

If the answer is NO then what, and here is where your "remain in the EU" bit falls apart, in fact if the answer is NO then we have only 3 months and 2 weeks to negotiate a different deal, or we hit the 2 year point, the treatys fail to apply we default to the WTO option. As per article 50.
or if you like - The rock hardest of all rock hard Brexits.

Neither the UK or the EU really want that second option to be honest.

But that is where we are, you get a choice between nice negotiated Brexit or rock hard Brexit. There is no "remain in the EU Option"

Chris Whiteside said...

Some people want another referendum as a means of reversing the one we have just had.

That is a horrendous idea for exactly the reasons I explained in my post.

Others want one to give democratic direction to the sort of Brexit deal we get.

That is difficult to manage for the reasons explained in your comment.

Jim said...

"Some people want another referendum as a means of reversing the one we have just had."

but that is my point, its too late for that, its not going to happen, the referendum is yesterdays news.

the choice now is what sort of brexit shall we go for, this negotiated one, or this rock hard one?

Those are the two choices on offer. That is why a referendum wont really solve anything, as anyone who can think things though would go with the first one.

Chris Whiteside said...

I think you are right about that.

However, there are still a minority on the Remain side who entertain the hope that they can stop Brexit, and some on the Leave side who are still afraid of being cheated out of victory.

I would have been tempted to argue that the former are delusional and the latter paranoid, were it not for the impression that this year it seems anything can happen!