In June 2016, our country voted to leave the European Union. Described as a ‘once-in-a-generation decision’, it was the biggest exercise in democracy we have ever seen. And by a clear majority of more than one million we decided to leave.
Remember the official document from the Government sent to every British home, the one recommending that people vote to remain? It said in bold, black and white terms that ‘This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.’
Yet now we hear calls for another referendum from those who don’t like the result.
The former Tory leader Michael Howard writes: ‘Many people think they are treated with contempt by their rulers who neither listen to nor respect their concerns’
This is nothing less than an attempt to subvert democracy, displaying contempt for the 17.4 million people who considered the advice of the Government at the time, and the leaders of the other main parties, then roundly rejected it.
The stark truth is that the elite in our country, including a large number of MPs, have never accepted the result of the referendum and have sought by any means that came to hand to thwart its result.
MPs seem to have forgotten that the decision to hold the referendum, a decision made by Parliament, delegated the question of whether we should leave the EU to the people. And the people duly decided.
Tony Blair (pictured this week making a People’s Vote speech) insisted there must be a second referendum on Brexit because of the ‘crisis’ over Theresa May’s deal
I can think of nothing more likely to discredit the very basis of our belief in democracy than a decision to hold a second referendum.
The very name those who campaign for it use – a ‘People’s Vote’ – is disingenuous. If the 2016 referendum was not a People’s Vote, it is difficult to see what it was.
It is of course true that passions ran high on both sides of the divide as they did in my family. My wife, Sandra, argued passionately for Remain.
That political divide still exists between us, and between many in the country, but there is absolutely no reason to suppose that a second referendum would heal it.
On the contrary, I have little doubt that the repetition of all those ferocious arguments would aggravate and exacerbate the divisions.
We know that there exists across the developed world a widespread frustration with governing elites. Many people think they are treated with contempt by their rulers who neither listen to nor respect their concerns.
What a striking confirmation of those criticisms it would be if our parliamentary elite said to the people of Britain: ‘We don’t think you understood what you were doing in 2016. We know better than you. So we’re not going to accept the result of your vote.’
Wrong in principle, a second referendum would also be a nightmare in practice. What, for example, should the questions be?
Should they include the option of leaving on the terms agreed between the Prime Minister and the EU? Should they include the other options now being canvassed such as an agreement known as the Norway option?
Howard writes: ‘The stark truth is that the elite in our country, including a large number of MPs, have never accepted the result of the referendum and have sought by any means that came to hand to thwart its result’ [File photo]
Should they include the option of leaving without a deal – an outcome frequently described as catastrophic by those who fail to understand the scope for arrangements to minimise, and possibly eliminate, any disruption which might or might not occur?
And would a question about simply returning to the EU include reference to likely consequences, such as a refusal to continue our rebate on payments hard won by Margaret Thatcher? Might there even be a requirement to join the euro?
As it happens I believe a second referendum would lead to the same result as the first, and quite possibly by a larger margin. But what if it did result in a vote to remain? Would we then have a third, on the principle that the best of three should prevail?
For me, the arguments against a second referendum are overwhelming, yet there is a real risk that anti-democratic forces will get their way. They must be resisted.
We cannot risk further disillusionment with the democratic process. Instead, we should leave the EU on March 29. That would show that, in this country at least, our rulers truly respect the will of the people.
Lord Howard of Lympne is former leader of the Conservative Party.
‘We were a split household’
By Sandra Howard
Sandra Howard, who voted to Remain, writes of a second referendum: ‘It would go against the grain of sanity’ [File photo]
With all my heart I believe Britain’s future lies with Europe, and I voted to Remain. Yet I am horrified by the prospect of a second referendum.
In 2016, we were given the ultimate democratic right to determine our future course: to stay in the European Union, benefits and all, or skedaddle, leaving our 27 neighbours to forge a closer union on their own.
We made a decision. So to be told now we have to ‘think again’ seems frankly undemocratic. I can’t believe it would be anything other than divisive and would lead to another, yet more bitter, stalemate.
I know I am not alone in thinking this. I was recently having supper with some girlfriends, Remainers all, and one of them said she was appalled at the idea of being asked once again whether she wishes to remain in the EU.
‘There’s no way I would consider going cap in hand to Europe and pleading to be let back in,’ she told me. ‘I would rather vote to leave.’
Another friend agreed. And if three Remainers feel like that, it’s hard to believe that many of those who voted for Brexit could be persuaded to change their minds.
We were a split household. Husband and wife, son and daughter – our four votes cancelled each other out.
My husband, Michael, felt he could not vote to remain; I wanted to be part of Europe, not for any economic reasons but because I didn’t want us to shrink and become a nation of Little Englanders.
I don’t have a problem with freedom of movement and I suppose if I’m honest, holding on to nurses came into the equation too.
Sandra Howard, pictured with husband Michael, says her family was split on the issue and their four votes cancelled each other out [File photo]
Michael and I are cheerfully adversarial. We practically get divorced if I’m five minutes late.
But my side lost and, far from moaning, we Remainers should now think positively and stride, as confidently as possible, into the unknown, which needn’t be a bad job. More than half the country voted for that course, and, who knows, maybe they have wiser heads on their shoulders.
Too many want a second referendum as a way of ‘settling things’. They hope and believe the result would be different this time. They say that it’s only fair to let people ‘think again’ after the chaotic mess politicians are making of the job.
There are distasteful murmurs about the numbers of Leavers who will have died, and I’m shocked when fellow Remainers look down their noses to accuse the Leavers of being less than clued-up – to say they are country bumpkins, a bunch of oldsters who should be put out to grass so the views of the young can prevail as they will be the ones left to bear the cost.
But those ‘bumpkin oldsters’ (and they are neither) care about their country and its future just as all my fellow Remainers and I do.
No, once is enough. We must NOT have a second referendum. It would go against the grain of sanity. The country has spoken.