Tony Blair has recently said that we could remain in the EU if the British public changes its mind about Brexit. Shortly afterwards, John Major said there should be a second referendum on the terms of Brexit.
You can’t always win
Both Major and Blair were strong advocates for Britain to remain in the EU during the referendum campaign. They made important interventions in the debate ahead of June 23rd in which they argued their case.
It just so happens that their side lost the campaign, and now it appears they want a second referendum for the public to give the “right” answer this time round.
But Blair and Major had their chance. The two former UK Prime Ministers argued their case, and their arguments were broadcast across the nation. Few of us have been so lucky.
Some of their arguments may have been good, while others less so. But that is now beside the point.
The point is they lost. It’s called democracy – one takes part on the understanding that one doesn’t always win. And when one loses – and that is inevitable at some point – one accepts it. That’s a founding principle of democracy without which it simply can’t function. Winners and losers gracefully accept the result and resume their lives.
It cannot now emerge that only one side in this referendum is permitted to win.
Such an eventuality would decimate the public’s trust in its elected representatives. It would prompt a level of anger and a sense of betrayal of which advocates of a “think again” referendum seem to be dangerously unaware. For if they understood, they would realise that attempting to thwart the result is not worth the damage it would incur to trust in politics, which is at a low enough ebb already.
Major and Blair are no longer Prime Ministers, and their will has no special claim over the law. The people listened to their arguments, and it so happens that they decided that other considerations trumped those arguments.
Major’s appalling suggestion that to respect the referendum result would be to accept the “tyranny of the majority” is as disingenuous as it is misguided.
Major raised no objections when he became Prime Minister with 42% of the popular vote. Are we to understand that the tyranny of the minority is better, or that in this instance the public got it right?
A clear understanding
Both men appear to need reminding of the understanding on which this referendum took place.
This understanding was perfectly expressed in the following statement made shortly before the referendum:
“Over the next few weeks we, the British people, will decide the future direction of our country. This is not a General Election, which rolls around every five years. We can’t “suck it and see” in this referendum. There won’t be another referendum on Europe. This is it. This is where we take the decision. So whatever your view, register and vote because the decision you take on the 23rd of June will shape our country, our people and our livelihoods for many generations to come.”
Who was that? Boris Johnson? Michael Gove? Nigel Farage?
Those were John Major’s closing remarks to the Oxford Union after he had argued the case for remaining.
That was his promise, the government’s promise, and the principle which underpinned the referendum, and to which all participants in the referendum consented.
From a strictly constitutional standpoint, the referendum may have been advisory. But after the entire campaign was conducted on the premise that “you decide”, the political and moral imperative is for the government to carry out the instructions of the people.
“There won’t be another referendum on Europe”.
We heard you, Major.
Now we’re leaving.