Posted by: aboutalbion | June 28, 2017

EU referendum vote (15)

The first anniversary of the EU referendum vote found the UK struggling with the outcome of a ‘snap’ general election.  I interpret this general election result as a tie.  On paper, it looks as if the two-party system has returned.  To me, the recent result feels like a repeat of last year’s referendum result in different clothes – a slight numerical advantage in an evenly divided electorate.

Over the past year, no plans for the UK’s future outside the EU have emerged.  I would expect the EU to continue to respond with statements such as, “That offer does not quite meet our expectations”, as the UK begins to table initiatives in the exit negotiations.  It seems inevitable that the present government will have great difficulty in securing parliamentary approval for any ‘final EU agreement’ at the end of the negotiations.

What will historians make of this first year?

I was drawn to the opinion this week that future historians will highlight with some amazement that one side in the 2016 referendum was not fronted by a political party that would take political responsibility for the constitutional change that a vote in their favour would require.

The official winning side in the referendum, Vote Leave, was a cross-party organisation formed about nine months before the referendum, and dissolved less than three months after the referendum.  The government in power (and the administrative civil service) had no plans in place for leaving the EU.

It is a breadth-taking example of the exercise of power without responsibility that a single issue pressure group can trigger such a profound constitutional change without in any way being responsible for.  It is a matter of record that reputable independent voices have judged the Vote Leave campaign as “dire” with “glaring democratic deficiencies” and as “one of the most dishonest political campaigns [the UK] has ever seen”.  However you look at it, I conclude that parliamentary sovereignty was stolen on this occasion by a referendum.

A year ago, I wrote …

“In 1978, Lord Hailsham [Lord Chancellor 1979-1987] wrote: “Referenda are of different kinds.  In what circumstances is it to be thought proper to have resort to one?  …  Is the referendum to be taken before, or after legislation has passed Parliament?  Is its effect to be conclusive or only advisory?  …  What subjects are to be referable?  Who may set the machinery in motion?  …  I do not claim to be able to answer these questions.  …  What is strange is that there has been practically no discussion as to how, or in what form, the institution [of a referendum] should be systematized.” [1979 (paperback) The Dilemma of Democracy. London, Collins Fount, p176f.]”

The UK’s present state of affairs has only been able to come about because Parliament has neglected to examine the place that a UK wide referendum might have in relation to the sovereignty of Parliament itself.  Parliament should take steps to ensure that its sovereignty is not stolen again.

Meanwhile, in the present political mess, it is probably the case that only another UK wide referendum can reverse the decision to leave the EU.


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