The Case for a Second Brexit Referendum
Brexit: a loaded term that has been at the forefront of British and European politics for what seems like a very long time; a problem with no apparent resolution. In June 2016, over 17 million Brits voted to leave the European Union (EU), and the British government’s efforts to navigate an extremely complex deal have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. While 2016 was filled with hopes of a “sensible and orderly departure” from the EU, the current political climate is much less optimistic regarding Britain’s ability to successfully leave the European Union, leaving many Brits much more uncertain about whether or not it should even happen.
Upon the electorate coming to believe that Brexit was, in fact, a bad idea, there were many calls and requests for a second referendum. The turnout for the initial referendum was just over 70%, resulting in a 52% majority decision to leave the EU. Now, members of the public are advocating for the decision to be made in a more democratic fashion, stating that almost 30% had not voted in the initial referendum, and therefore that the result did not reflect the desires of the majority of the British public. As the results of the initial referendum were so close, many argue that the 30% would make a notable difference. These opinions are expressed through anti-Brexit protests in the UK, the most recent on March 23rd in London, where hundreds of thousands called for another referendum. However, it can be argued that by giving up their right to vote initially, those citizens who are now calling for a second referendum consented to whatever outcome was going to result from the initial referendum.
Those who oppose the second referendum claim that the initial one is a democratic decision, and any action to rescind that decision would be an anti-democratic act. However, if we take the most basic definition of democracy to mean the rule of the majority, then the initial decision to leave the EU is not democratic, as only 52% of 70% of the population voted to leave, meaning that the majority of the population did not consent. However, given that the entire population had the option to vote, and 30% chose not to, their abstention lead to the “majority” decision of Brexit.
Since 2016, Parliament has rejected eight possible Brexit deals, leading to increasing frustration around the UK’s successful exit from the European Union. While the initial deadline for Britain’s exit from the EU was March 29, it has been delayed until April 12, as the government is unable to agree on a deal. Holding a second referendum and allowing the people to have the final say seems like the only way the British government can progress at this time. This would, however, need to happen in a very short period of time, as a no-deal Brexit is the default option if the British government cannot reach a deal by April 12th.
The concern of a second referendum is that if the public once again votes to leave the EU, the British parliament is unlikely to reach a deal, and we will once again enter a cycle of meaningless deliberation. If the public votes against leaving the EU, then the past two years of political discourse and diplomacy will have been a completely wasted effort, and the initial democratic decision will be overridden. Without hosting a second referendum, the UK all but guarantees a no-deal Brexit, which would be detrimental to Britain politically, economically, and socially. Despite the seemingly obvious hypocrisy, the most productive way to proceed is to have a second referendum and let the people once again decide whether they want to stay in the European Union or exit into oblivion. Not only is it the most democratic option—it simply makes the most sense.