Why a referendum is the right answer

Published on March 01, 2019

Everything needs a plan

London4Europe Committee member and former HM Treasury senior civil servant Michael Romberg reminds us of the core case for a referendum.

The case for a referendum is very simple. In 2016 Leave had no plan. As we have been told, there is "a special place in hell ... for those who promised Brexit without even a sketch of a plan for carrying it out safely".  

No doubt every Leave voter knew what they wanted. None knew what they would get. No-one in 2016 promised any of the three possible Brexits: a May/Corbyn deal, No-deal or a revived May deal.

2016 was a vote on an idea. No-one takes a project from idea to implementation without reviewing the plan. The same people as approved the exploration of the idea should vote on whether they like the plan. That is honourable fair and democratic.

Sure, people were told there would be just one shot. But that only made sense if Leave had a plan. They didn't.

In legislative terms

The argument works whether Parliament approves the deal or not. Having begun with a referendum, it is we the electorate who should judge whether the plan does what we want it to.

In legislative terms, if MPs pass the deal on a motion that makes approval conditional on a referendum, the Withdrawal Bill that would implement the deal could be amended to provide for a referendum.

Or there could be a separate bill: Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake MP has tabled a bill to extend the Article 50 period to allow for a referendum. He joins that indefatigable campaigner for a referendum the Welsh Labour MP Geraint Davies who has put down a series of bills for a referendum. MPs need to suspend party tribalism for the duration.

There is no point in extending the time-table without a plan for a referendum.  We would just waste more time looking for impossible solutions to the failure of Brexit to live up to its promises.


We have to stop using bad arguments

To get public support for a referendum, we first have to drop all the bad arguments that Remainers have used in the past.

Any argument whose logical conclusion is that the 2016 referendum should just be set aside hinders our cause. It marks us out as bad losers, and stops Leavers from listening to anything else we say about the case for Remain. 

Even with those changes that would have led to a better 2016 referendum, it is too late. We cannot change the rules half way through the game. 

So we should not use arguments like: Scotland voted Remain, the franchise should have been different, only 37% voted for Leave, there should have been a minimum threshold, the referendum was advisory, Leave lied, the question was too difficult, referenda should not be used for binary questions, older voters have died off.



Let's stick to the core case. There was no plan. What is now on offer was not on offer then. Let the electorate decide whether they wish to go ahead. And let the campaign with the best case win. It won't be easy. But we are up for it.

In the end, although the People's Vote campaign barely mentions it, the best argument for a referendum is the wish to Remain

If we campaign for Remain with a positive, cheerful, tolerant, open case for the UK’s EU membership that respects and addresses the concerns of Leave voters, then we will win.


This article was originally posted on the London4Europe website

Help us put Europe on the political agenda before the general election