Brexit – who fears a ‘people’s vote’?


Sir, – In her article “Second Brexit vote will end all trust in British politics” (Opinion & Analysis, February 28th), Ella Whelan writes: “Public support for Brexit hasn’t changed.”

If that is so, I don’t see why the Brexiteers should fear a “people’s vote”.

If she is correct, the No side will win again, and the result will put the whole thing to bed for a long time to come. Furthermore, this time around, no-one would be able to argue that there hadn’t been a thorough public debate.

However, I suspect that what many Brexiteers are fundamentally concerned about is that, with another referendum, the Leavers might lose. This could be due to changing demographics (older Leave voters dying and younger Remainers coming on stream), the uninformed nature of the discussion prior to the 2016 referendum, the dawning realisation that it’s very difficult to unscramble an egg, and the dog’s dinner that the UK government has made of Brexit to date,

In warning against a second referendum, Ella Whelan writes of her feeling that, “Brexit voters are the kind of people that hold a grudge.” To the extent that this is true, it would represent an extreme of political timidity to use it as a guide to action (or in this case inaction).

The more substantive issue is whether the majority should have the ability seriously to restrict the freedom of the minority, as the implementation of Brexit arguably does.

One could imagine all kinds of scenarios where a referendum result would need to be overturned as quickly as possible. Take the hypothetical example of some future situation where religious fundamentalists might use a narrow referendum majority as a means of trampling on the freedom of the whole population.

The question is not whether the decision of the majority should always be carried out – clearly there are circumstances where that is not the case. The question is whether the circumstances of the case are sufficiently compelling to call in question the original decision. In the case of Brexit, they arguably are.

Democracy is a system, not a value. It is a means of optimising values, including freedom. Usually, it functions quite well to that end. Occasionally, it does not.

Sometimes the majority get it wrong, and on such occasions they need at least to be afforded the opportunity, after due consideration and discussion, to get it right. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.