We use cookies for site personalization and analytics. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

Why a people’s vote on Brexit is democratic

European Union

Britain is not used to referendums. Which is why the view that a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal – which thousands will be taking to the streets of London to demand this weekend – is somehow ‘undemocratic’ has gained traction.

But it is actually quite usual to have a second vote on really big decisions that will have longterm impacts. For example, Ireland had two referendums on the Nice Treaty, first in June 2001, then in October 2002, before ratifying the Nice Treaty. Denmark also had two referendums on Maastricht, in June 1992 then May 1993. 

‘It is not a re-run on the first one, because it will be a vote on actual practical implications, all too absent from the debate in 2016,’  explains Matt Qvortrup, a professor of political science at Coventry University and a world authority on referendums.

In both Denmark and Ireland, more people took part in the second vote than the first, making them, you could say, more democratic.

The situation with Brexit is extreme, both in its social divisiveness but also in its level of complexity and confusion. How many of us can say, hand on heart, exactly what it was we were voting for in June 2016?  It was a lot easier, on both sides, to say what we were voting against

But what we vote for matters.  It will shape our future and that of the generations to come. Right now it’s hard to see what that future might be, given the paralytic state of the British government’s negotiations with the EU – and the confusion within Westminster even on the very meaning of a ‘meaningful’ parliamentary vote on the final deal.

Hardline Brexiteers have been no clearer than Theresa May’s government when it comes to providing the essential practicalities of what Brexit Britain would look like and how it would work.

But, thanks to a recently released blueprint produced by the US libertarian Cato Institute, backed by the billionaire Koch bothers, and the UK’s Boris Johnson-backed Initiative for Free Trade, we now know what ‘an ideal US-British trade deal’ would look like.

It’s illuminating. Sure the chlorinated chicken, hormone-boosted beef and GM food, are apparent, along with the tearing up of the precautionary principle that has guided EU regulations. But also the high-speed dismembering of the NHS to open it up to foreign investment. The blueprint is especially significant because of the close ties between the organizations behind it and the UK secretary for international trade, Liam Fox, and the US president, Donald Trump.

One thing we do know for sure is that the lack of reliable information and the scale of misinformation and deliberate disinformation, in the run-up to the 2016 referendum was unprecedented and arguably criminal.

A second vote, with improved electoral safeguards in place, is the least we can ask for. It’s just basic democracy.


Vanessa Baird is currently working on the topic of Trade, which will be the Big Story in the January/February edition of New Internationalist.

Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop