It’s time to be honest about Brexit.

It’s time to be honest about Brexit.

There have been a lot of lies told along the way to where we are now, on both sides of the debate. The biggest one of all, however, is that it will be a failure of democracy not to deliver Brexit on March 29th.

Specifically, “Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy”.

Actually, taking us out of the EU on March 29th, either with the proposed deal or without a deal would be a failure of democracy. The truth is, whatever we get on 29th March will not be what we voted for.

The absolute truth is that the implications of leaving the EU were mis-sold ahead of the vote.

The proposed deal has no democratic mandate. The vote was in or out and the proposed compromise is neither. Half in and half out was not what the country voted for. To give Theresa May her due, she has tried valiantly to get us out with a deal that is beneficial for the UK but she was always doomed to failure. The message she had to take to Brussels was “we intend to leave your club and we are going to stop paying the membership fee, but we want to continue to use all the facilities when it suits us”. It is no surprise that the EU continues to say no to that.

That leaves us with leaving without a deal on 29th March. That has a clear mandate because we, the country, voted to leave the EU and that is exactly what a no-deal Brexit delivers.

On the face of it, democracy is satisfied by a hard Brexit on 29th March. However, is democracy really that simple? As with most things in life the truth is rather more complicated.

What did we, the country, actually vote for two and a half years ago?

The leave camp painted a picture of life outside the EU with all the benefits of life inside the EU but without any of the downsides. The grass on the other side was definitely made to look very much greener. The remain camp did little to dispel that message.

As March 29th approaches we can see more and more of what lies on the other side. There are some seriously brown and desolate patches in amongst the green grass. It is not looking at all like what we were told it would when we voted for it.

In our democratic society there are always protections in place for when things don’t go as planned. Two of those are relevant here.

1) When we go to the ballot box to vote we do not do so to set things in stone. When we elect a government we do so in the hope they will perform well and act in our best interest. If they don’t then before things go too far astray, we have the chance (within no more than 5 years) to change our minds and set a different path by electing a different government. If there is a major change in the way things are heading then an election is held much sooner (as the current government is well aware).

When the people vote in a democracy it is to make a statement that on this day, this is the direction we want to go in. A democratic vote is not a declaration that we are forever determined to go in that direction come what may.

2) We have protections in place regarding the important decisions we make, particularly those outside the ones we normally make. There is always a cooling off period for choices with a high financial impact and there are protections that allow us to cancel something that we have ordered if it turns out not to be what were told it would be.

It is not a democracy if the government denies its citizens the protections at a collective level that it demands all organisations provide them on an individual level.

Does that mean we should turn back and cancel Brexit?

Not necessarily. That would be undemocratic as it would go against the decision of the country two and a half years ago.

So, we have to carry on and accept Brexit with no deal?

Not necessarily, because that is not what the country voted for two and a half years ago either. The country voted to leave the EU on the clear understanding that we would get back control of our borders and be able to address immigration with no significant downsides to our trading relationship with the EU and a big pot of money freed up (for the NHS or other such good uses). Clearly that is not what a so-called hard Brexit will deliver.

The absolute truth is that the implications of leaving the EU were mis-sold ahead of the vote.

In some cases, this may have been deliberate and in others is was simply because everything was based on conjecture; there really was no way of knowing what leaving the EU would actually look like. It was uncharted waters.

So where does this all leave us in a country that prides itself on its democracy? The answer is pretty simple really. You go back to the people and ask a simple question.

Two and a half years ago you, the people of the UK, voted to leave the EU on the basis of what at the time appeared to be the relative merits of either staying in or leaving. Having spent the period since then attempting to establish the most beneficial way of doing so we have got to where we are now i.e. no deal in place with the EU regarding our ongoing relationship after we leave. There is no realistic prospect of this changing unless we remain in the EU.

Do you wish to proceed with leaving the EU YES / NO

A vote to proceed with leaving the EU will be an acceptance that now we know what leaving actually means we still want to do it. A vote not to proceed will be an acceptance that now we know what leaving actually means it is too far from what we were told it would be for us to want to go through with it.

Following this second vote to ratify or reverse the original decision based on subsequent evidence of what the real implications are, democracy will have been satisfied.

Forcing on the country now a decision it made two and a half years ago, without giving it the opportunity to consider two and a half years of subsequent evidence of what the implications of that decision will be, is not democratic. Asking the country, “With what you now know, do you still want to go through with this?” would be.

A people’s vote is the only option I see before us which can be said to uphold the democratic values that the United Kingdom is supposed to represent.

Ian Sturt is an Independent Energy Assessor and Vice Chair of The South West Regional Association for Energy Assessors.
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