It’s nice to agree with your most implacable opponents every now and then. That’s why I was especially cheered to hear Patrick Stewart’s reasoned and measured arguments as he championed the new People’s Vote movement in various television studios nearly a fortnight ago. It’s hard to deny that we’d never make different, better decisions if we could see further into the future. After all, how many of us wouldn’t want to turn back the clock and not have a particular argument, or choose a different path that didn’t lead to a dead end?
When it comes to weighty matters of state, we all cast our votes based more on hope and belief than any meaningful knowledge of the future. That inescapable truth probably explains why we’re permanently disappointed that our destination bears only a passing semblance to the exciting postcard we received. So it’s with a big dose of hindsight and a little humility that I’ve come to embrace the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The landscape is so dramatically different and so many arguments resoundingly disproved that I can see no other alternative. We’re just not where we thought we would be.
In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet informed voters that a Council of Ministers would make Europe-wide decisions. However, that competency was transferred to the unelected European Commission in 2009. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.
In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet assured voters that “no important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.” However, both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties handed many important policy powers to the same unelected European Commission. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.
In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet declared that “through membership of the [Common] Market we are better able to advance and protect our national interests. This is the essence of sovereignty.” I can’t possibly speak for 17.4 million leave voters, but I’ll bet the farm that a significant majority of them believe that regaining control of UK border policy, money and laws is the true essence of sovereignty. It’s taken a little over forty years for that glib official statement to be tested in the real world and found so desperately wanting.
In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet stated that Commonwealth countries would not be disadvantaged by Britain’s membership of the EEC. Yet less than two pages later, the very same leaflet states a UK voting to leave the EEC “would no longer be inside the Common Market tariff wall – but outside.” The pamphlet didn’t try to explain how splitting the Commonwealth between those behind and those outside the EEC’s tariff wall was beneficial to the countries left outside. The eagerness of those same nations to embrace new trading ties with the UK shows that statement to have been utterly false, and I suspect Edward Heath and a large portion of Parliament knew it back in 1973.
Whilst some of the Government’s claims regarding the Common Market may have been accurate in 1975, an awful lot has changed in forty years. New treaties, new power structures and new laws have transformed the EEC beyond all recognition, and in the light of those radically altered conditions, it was right and proper that at long last a second referendum on EU membership took place on June 23, 2016.
Some of the more embittered remain factions highlight the fact that older voters were the deciding demographic in the referendum result, as though that somehow counts for something. Despite ridiculous and condescending claims that older voters represent a non-existent past, they are in fact the very same people who’d voted to remain in the EEC in 1975. They’d just developed a better understanding of what they were really voting for this time around. Sound familiar?
Mr Stewart and his chums at People’s Vote HQ can celebrate the fact that we’ve already had a second EU referendum. When considering new developments and changed circumstances that were unknown in 1975, the electorate has soberly and very sensibly changed its mind.
The North London, 2nd referendum set can sleep soundly knowing that democracy was well served by the 2016 vote, and they can focus on really important things like writing letters to the Guardian.
The People’s Vote of 2016 was a triumph for democracy.
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