This letter, signed by over 500 concerned citizens, has been sent to The Times in support of the call for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. This will be debated in the Commons on Dec 11th after a petition on the matter was signed by over 120,000 citizens.
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On 11 December, Parliament debates a petition “to hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal”. We write to you as a group of one thousand concerned citizens of no fixed political affiliations.
We believe that the case for a referendum on the “deal” to be negotiated by the Government on our departure from the EU is strong, and should be agreed by Parliament. The original referendum posed a simple question to an issue which is very complex. The campaign that was then conducted was abysmal on both sides, and presented citizens with information that was misleading or just plain untruthful. We all know the result but it is worth spelling it out. An advisory referendum produced a small majority of those who voted in favour of leaving the EU. The vote to leave represented 37% of the eligible voting population of the country. Worth noting that the government’s threshold criteria for industrial action which causes disruption to services is 40%. The referendum result did not meet the government’s own democratic threshold. This seems to us at the very least, a dubious basis on which to take a decision which will have a significant impact on the life of every citizen, and in particular, the young.
We are not doom-mongers who believe our country cannot succeed economically outside the EU. However, during the course of the negotiations the government has held with the EU it has become apparent that the transitional costs of leaving have been underestimated, and have not been explained to the people. Further, apart from the short term transitional costs, we believe that in order for this country to compete economically at the highest level as a single Nation, a massive further and continuing investment will be required in infrastructure, and particularly education and skills for the population. This need, and how it might be funded has not so far been addressed by any of the parties in Parliament.
But we do not believe the cost to the country should be measured in economic terms alone; departure from the EU to stand on our own will also damage our political standing. It is not that we will not be able to rely on support on many issues from members of the EU, many of which are of course our partners in NATO. We will no longer be present at the table when EU positions are discussed. Rather than being able to influence the nuances of the European position directly, we will find ourselves faced with positions which may not align perfectly with ours. Nor can we count on always being on the same side. There are issues that may divide us from the EU 27. Our position in every global negotiation will be affected, and we may find decisions being taken in spite of our views, simply because we will be easier to ignore, or we will not be able to stand against a consensus in which we are not included.
The vote to leave was predominantly an English vote. The people of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. The unity and possibly the survival of the UK as it is will be weakened if Brexit is driven through on the basis of the EU referendum. All the people of the United Kingdom deserve to be consulted about any deal negotiated by the government.
We know that the referendum vote was divisive, and it is common knowledge that many of our politicians now fear that any repeat of the vote, whatever the outcome, will deepen those divisions. We would argue that a failure to address the deep sense of grievance about the way in which the referendum was conducted will be equally damaging. If the government calculates that those who did not vote, or who voted in favour of remaining are the more reasonable people who will eventually accept leaving the EU on the basis of the present mandate, we fear they may prove to be grossly mistaken, and the damage to our country’s unity will not heal for a generation, or possibly longer.
By allowing the initial referendum Parliament in effect abdicated its responsibility as the representatives of the people in the EU issue. That responsibility cannot now simply be taken back. It is clear that both those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain have doubts about the deal the government is trying to negotiate. The people are entitled to be asked to make a final judgement on the deal. A vote in Parliament alone will be equally or even more damaging than a referendum in which the population will have been seen to speak for itself. Full information on the economic cost and the potential political impact on our international standing of the government’s deal, of remaining in the EU and of leaving without a deal should be provided and independently verified, and the people as a whole should make a choice between those options.
Parliament’s initial response to the petition it will debate on 11 December was ill judged. The wording was peremptory, patronising, and smacked of contempt for serious citizens with legitimate concerns. We believe the people as a whole are entitled to take the final decision. Only if that is done, transparently and democratically, is there a chance that the divisions the have been opened will be able to heal around the final result, whatever that should be.
We therefore urge Members of Parliament to agree to a referendum on whatever deal (or not) the government negotiates.