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 that there was a “perfectly credible” case for a second referendum.
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 put their case to the nation.
Some of their arguments will have been good, others less so. But that is now beside the point; the point is they lost. In a 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. It’s a founding principle of democracy without which it 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.
A clear understanding
Both former Prime Ministers appear to need reminding of the understanding on which this referendum took place. The following statement made shortly before the referendum expresses that understanding:
“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.”
Those are John Major’s closing remarks to the Oxford Union after he had argued the case for Britain remaining in the EU. That was his promise, the government’s promise, and the principle which underpinned the referendum.
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 it has received in this referendum.
“There won’t be another referendum on Europe”.
We heard you, Major. Now we’re leaving.