I recently met constituents who are keen to see a second referendum Europe. Although I disagree I was very happy to exchange views and replied as below to various points raised in the meeting and subsequently:
Thank you for your email, it was good to see you and other constituents……
As you mention in your email, I did extend the meeting but notwithstanding this we could not ‘on the spot’ discuss every aspect of Brexit!
In the meeting you said that the Referendum should have required a super-majority in the referendum.
As I have said in previous letters, a simple majority is absolutely the norm in a referendum. In countries where referenda are more common-place such as Denmark, France and the Republic of Ireland changes to their relationship with the EU have been rejected or agreed by their populations on that basis. We applied the same rules in the last UK Referendum on Europe.
The only referendum of which I am aware in which a simple majority was not the only determinant was the Scottish referendum on devolution held in 1979 in which, for devolution to take place, its proponents had to secure both a simple majority and over 40% of the electorate. They won the simple majority but failed to achieve the requisite threshold. The fact that the Scottish people had been denied a separate parliament despite a majority of voters who participated in the referendum demanding it, caused a huge amount of resentment.
I appreciate that in your email you stress that it is Parliament that is passing the legislation that is enabling us to leave the EU. This is clearly the case. As I have written previously, the referendum result was not legally binding. However, in any modern democracy if a referendum is held and a majority of those voting express their view this cannot, to my mind, simply be dismissed.
At the subsequent general election in 2017 the vast majority of MPs were elected on platforms saying that they would honour the Referendum result.
In your email you ask me to ‘please now tell us in detail exactly what [the tangible benefits of Brexit] will be, whether and how these benefits are superior to those we currently enjoy as members of the EU, and whether and how these benefits will outweigh any disadvantages of leaving the EU.’
This was at the core of the EU referendum debate and I am not going to reprise the arguments that were put before the British people in that campaign.
I am concerned, as I mentioned in the meeting, that there are many people with strong views on both sides of this debate but who do not appreciate or do not have the opportunity to hear the other side.
For those to whom I speak to who are keen for us to leave the EU, indeed who cannot understand why we have not left already, they see real and tangible benefits from us leaving the EU. These include:
- the UK withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ECJ (a benefit which I have had stressed to me by, among others, senior UK lawyers who prize our common law tradition and who passionately believe that the UK should retain its own jurisdictional supremacy).
- The ability of the British parliament to set regulations for our country over a wide range of issues (this point has particularly been made to me by small businesses who trade exclusively within the UK, of which there are a great many).
- Domestic decision making on immigration policy (which I hope may lead to a mature and valuable debate on this important issue and the benefits immigration can bring to the UK, at present the UK does not have full control of its immigration policy.)
- the UK ceasing to be a significant ongoing net contributor to the EU budget and determining for itself how these funds can be spent domestically.
- In coastal communities in particular, the Common Fisheries Policy has been the cause of huge controversy for many years and these communities see a real tangible benefit of the UK resuming its status as an independent coastal state.
The list could continue: those who voted to Leave had their reasons, just like those who voted to Remain but this was all debated (and much more besides) in the run up to the Referendum. The Referendum was (frequently) described (by both sides) as the “once in a generation” opportunity to settle the issue.
For those voting Leave, from conversations I have had, another tangible benefit was to withdraw from an organisation which is pledged to ever deeper political union: a direction of travel they opposed.
Notwithstanding the agreement negotiated by David Cameron there was a concern that the consolidation of pooled sovereignty into a federal state was simply a matter of time if we did not leave. A great many people, including many who voted to Remain, have no desire for the UK to become a part of a single European state. This “closer political union” aspect of the Treaty of Rome, it is often said, was de-emphasised by the pro-EEC campaign (in favour of emphasising “trade”) in the 1975 Referendum. However UK citizens are not wrong to reference this EU aspiration. For some the commitments Mr Cameron secured on this issue were simply insufficient.
As you know, I supported remaining in the EU but I acknowledge the concerns felt, it transpired, by a majority of fellow citizens who participated in what was the largest exercise in democracy this country has ever known. As you also know, I pledged, both prior to EU referendum and the 2017 General Election that I would honour the decision taken by British people.
I understand from your email that…….will be writing to me separately about the breaking of electoral rules during the referendum campaign. As I have written previously, both sides have been found in breach of electoral rules.
On the issue of campaign funding it remains the case that the Remain campaign outspent the Leave campaign considerably, even before one takes into account the Government’s leaflet sent to every household before the campaign proper began.
I fear that if you wish to look to reasons why Leave won and Remain lost, these do not fundamentally lie in the conduct of either campaign during the course of a relatively short period.
The UK has long had a different approach to European integration rising from our history and our geography. It was believed by those who took us in to the European project that these differences would change over time, it appears that they have not.
There has been a lot of focus on the role of social media during the referendum campaign but perhaps too little on the influence of mainstream media and political debate in the 20 years prior.
When we entered the EU it was against a backdrop of a massive loss of economic confidence in the UK and the massive post-war economic recovery of continental Europe.
By 2016, neither of these factors were the case. The 8-year run up to the EU referendum saw the Euro crisis, the rise of Euro-scepticism on the continent and open divisions between the most affluent and least affluent continental EU members. On major issues directly affecting the continent, the EU no longer appeared to have all the answers. By 2016 the failure of the UK to join the Euro, which many commentators had said was essential to our economic wellbeing and future, had been proved in fact to be a benefit to our economy.
The vote was also held at a time of great and ongoing political turbulence at which the responsiveness of the political systems to their electorates across much of Europe and North America was (and is) being questioned.
I entirely respect why you want to remain in the EU but the decision taken by the electorate in a national referendum after 40 years of discussion and debate should not simply be dismissed.