Another referendum on Brexit deal is indeed a nonsense. The whole Brexit is a nonsense and adding extra irrationality makes it even more absurd.
There is also the question of how realistic it is to organise a meaningful referendum. Time is perhaps the biggest limitation. We now have less than 230 days to March 29, 2019.
The next problem is ‘the subject’ itself. Following the media comments, one would be under impression that we are now formulating our future EU-UK trade agreement. Hence the talk about a Trade Deal or No Deal as the outcomes of the current talks. This is not the case.
We are now negotiating a Withdrawal Agreement not a Trade Deal Agreement. This confusion has been with us for some time. Remember the ‘row of the summer’ last year? It was about ‘sequencing’ – David Davis wanted to talk about trade and withdrawal agreements simultaneously. Three months of UK bluffing, posturing and threatening, three hours to climb down. Last October, the UK agreed to sign a Withdrawal Agreement first and only when our past commitments will be decided and settled we can talk about future trade arrangement.
There is logic in that: The Withdrawal Agreement has to be approved by ‘a qualified majority’. That means at least 15 EU countries and at least 65% of the total EU population supporting the deal. By contrast, a Free Trade Agreement must be approved unanimously by all 32 parliaments in all 27 countries. (And then the Brexiteers say there is no democratic decision in the EU!)
The third problem is what the referendum question should be. A question about a future, yet unknown, agreement is nay impossible. A simple question which states intentions only is useless as we have learned from our 2016 referendum.
Multiple questions including each option with its myriads of variations would be mindboggling. Referendum could not capture Facilitated Customs Arrangement, NHS, social housing, passporting for the City of London, not to have a border in Northern Ireland where WTO terms insist on such a border – to name but few.
Simplification would therefore be required. Broadly we have three options: 1) Leaving with No Deal (WTO), 2) Cancelling Article 50 and staying in and 3) a compromise along European Economic Area (EEA) deal with perhaps some things taken out and others thrown in.
A referendum with these three options would succumb to Condorcet paradox. The paradox states that for more than two options a collective compromise is not what the majority of people want. A good example is the Chequers Papers: majority of Leavers and Remainers don’t want it.
Even if we use known defined options for such a referendum, we would still not know the impact on the UK. But regardless of the impact, we know that Remainers would prefer EEA to No Deal and Leavers would prefer No Deal to EEA.
Nonetheless, as Jacob Rees Mogg responded in his ‘vassal state’ riposte, Leavers too would prefer to stay in the EU rather than to accept EEA compromise.
Thus, neither Leavers nor Remainers would be happy with EEA. But a variation of EEA is exactly what is the most likely outcome of the present negotiations. Condorcet paradox.
In conclusion, a referendum with multiple choices of “Do you agree with the government deal” and “Do you wish to Leave without a deal” and “Do you want to Remain in the EU” would lead us nowhere. Whatever the decision derived from such a referendum the majority would feel “this is not my country anymore”.
To function as a society we must re-connect and decide on future action. Despite the fact that we do not have time, don’t know the deal and cannot formulate the question.
One way out would be to ask an all-embracing question. If we reap the benefits of Brexit in 50 years’ time, the poll could ask: Do you wish for UK government to pursue policies which make you poorer in the next 50 years? It is a safe assumption that the answer would be a definite NO from the majority of voters.
Another way to approve EU Withdrawal is to eliminate Condorcet paradox: the choice must be either the deal Theresa May brings from Brussels or staying in the EU.
What about the time limitation? Vince Cable mentioned that when we managed to legislate banks nationalisation in no time at all during credit crunch, we can pass a quick legislation for a referendum too.
To have another Brexit referendum is indeed a nonsense. To force the elected representatives to clearly define the options, to formulate the existential Brexit question and to discuss publicly the likely impact is altogether another matter.
Brexit is a people made problem. Only people can solve it. People’s vote is the way.
Whatever the result we must hope it will unite the country.