In a surprise admission, Steve Baker said the crucial vote on the exit deal would not – as expected – be a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice, because “parliament can always seek to amend motions”.
The Brexit minister agreed a possible amendment would be for parliament to only approve the withdrawal agreement struck with the EU “subject to a second referendum”.
I am not a great fan of referendums. The UK used to be a parliamentary democracy, not a direct one, and that worked fairly effectively, if never perfectly. It meant the demagoguery of the moment was leavened by the criticism of debate, boring as that can be. With a referendum, one side or another can, as the Brexiteers did, lie through its teeth about the benefits of some course of action, then force a chaotic change upon the entire nation with a slender majority of people bothering to vote.
There is no accountability in such a system, you can’t turf the voters out, and David Cameron ought to be turning on a spit in hell for his role in bringing this catastrophe about. Maybe that’s where he is… haven’t heard a squeak from him about this imbroglio of his creation. Of course, I don’t believe in hell. He’s likely bronzing himself on the Costa del something-or-other, the bastard.
Still, there is an argument that having gotten ourselves into this smelly mess through a narrow referendum result, a second referendum to decide if we want to wallow in it is a legitimate notion. In having a referendum, Parliament mistakenly abdicated its responsibility of presiding over this issue. So by all means let’s have another referendum on the question of accepting the Tory government’s Brexit deal, whatever disaster they come up with in the end, or staying as we are.
If the second referendum confirms the first, then that would be evidence that British nationalism and prejudice against immigrants has in fact triumphed with most people, and the rest of us liberals and internationalists would just have to take our lumps and go along with the disaster. And if it reverses the first, we can enjoy the spectacle of the hopelessly incompetent and calamitous Theresa May spinning wildly in a new effort to remain in Downing Street at any price. Who would she buy off this time with £1.5 billion from the Tory magic money tree? At least Cameron had the grace to quit the moment he lost. May doesn’t even have that much integrity.
No-one knows how this farce is going to end, but once it does, I have a modest suggestion. Let’s either do away with referendums altogether, or require a super-majority for their decision to prevail. Nothing major, say a 60/40 split. Or maybe require two referendums, one in the heat of the moment, then another confirmatory one a couple of years down the line. And leave the governing to Parliament where it’s supposed to be, and you can always vote against your MP when s/he screws up.