Helping MPs to decide whether they should vote for or against invoking Article 50

Choices are hard, so I made this simple flow-chart to help MPs with the decision:article-50-flow-chart-2

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Ten reasons why it is not undemocratic for MPs to vote against invoking Article 50

  1. MPs have a duty to do what they think is right and in the best interests of the UK.
  2. The referendum was not an election, the result of which could be reversed at the next general election.
  3. Democracy does not begin and end on a single day.  People change their minds in light of new information and it is childish to hold them to their first answer like gameshow contestants.
  4. Large numbers of people were denied the right to vote in the referendum
  5. The referendum result was close, and insufficient for such a large, irrevocable constitutional change.
  6. Parliament had clearly decided that the referendum was advisory.
  7. It was and is unclear what leaving the EU would mean. People were forced to vote blind.
  8. The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto was clear that whatever happened, the UK would remain a member of the single market, which is not the government’s plan.
  9. Two of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the UK leaving would amount to them being dragged out against their democratic will.
  10. The electorate was misled. Deliberately and repeatedly misled.

Detail

1. MPs have a duty to do what they think is right and in the best interests of the UK.  

  • It is not democratic for an MP to vote in favour of something they believe or know to be damaging to the UK and its population.
  • To do this would be an abrogation of their moral and democratic duty.

2. The referendum was not an election, the result of which could be reversed at the next general election. 

  • It is also not a standard piece of legislation that can be revoked by future parliaments
  • Leaving the EU will be irrevocable and will affect every person in the UK for the rest of their lives.

3. Democracy does not begin and end on a single day.

  • It is not clear at all that, as the realities of the UK leaving the EU become apparent, it would continue to be the will of the people to do so.
  • It is patronising and childish to deny people the right to change their mind in light of new information.

4. Large numbers of people were denied the right to vote in the referendum

This included:

  • EU citizens permanently resident in the UK (3 million approx);
  • 16 and 17 year olds, who had been eligible to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, and who the Government said it would have been “too complicated” to allow to vote in the EU referendum (1 million approx);
  • and UK citizens living in other EU Member States for more than 15 years, including those employed by the EU institutions (1 million approx, though possibly many more).

5. The referendum result was close, and insufficient for such a large, irrevocable constitutional change.

  • Of those eligible to vote, only 37.5% voted to leave the EU, meaning 62.5% did not vote to leave.
  • While people on both sides talk about the 17 million for, or the 16 million against leaving, the reality is that only 1.3m people out of a population of 64.1 million effectively decided the entire future of the UK.
    • Almost all other countries require either 50% of the electorate or 60% of those who vote for major constitutional change.
    • The reason this was not required in this case is because the referendum was advisory, and it was therefore unnecessary.

6. Parliament had decided that the referendum was advisory.  

  • The legislation passed by Parliament was clear on this. The referendum has no constitutional status in the way that it would in, for example, Ireland.
  • MPs were made aware of this by House of Commons briefing papers before passing the Act, and this is in the public domain.
  • MPs could have chosen to make the referendum binding, as, for example, the Alternative Vote referendum was, but they chose not to.*

7. It was and is unclear what leaving the EU would mean. 

  • It could mean anything from being in the EEA and EFTA, which would require freedom of movement and EU laws, but would be less economically damaging, to a complete break (‘hard’ or ‘dirty’ Brexit) which would not require freedom of movement, but would be extremely economically damaging.
  • Those who voted Leave were therefore voting for a very wide spectrum of possible outcomes, not a single one.

8. The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto was clear that whatever happened, the UK would remain a member of the single market.  

  • The government’s position on freedom of movement makes this impossible to achieve.

9. Two of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the UK leaving would amount to them being dragged out against their democratic will. 

  • In the case of Scotland, this may be contrary to the Act of Union of 1707 which formed the UK, and, in the case of Northern Ireland, will undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which is an international treaty with Ireland which rests on EU law.
  • It may also lead to the new EU external border between the UK and Ireland becoming a hard border, contrary to this agreement.

10. The electorate was deliberately misled.

  • Serving Government ministers and MPs from both major parties in the Leave campaign, including the current Foreign Secretary, repeatedly and knowingly lied to voters on many aspects of the EU.
  • This included the famous £350m claim, but also many others such as claims that the UK did not control its own non-EU immigration, that the EEA could be joined without agreeing to free movement of people, and that trade deals with third countries and even with individual EU Member States could be entered into immediately after the vote.
  • When consumers are misled, the law seeks to protect them and for restitution to be made.  We do not blame them for believing untrue claims, and nor do we tell them that they are stuck with the product they bought under false pretences.

*This has been amended as the post mistakenly said that Referendum on Scottish Independence was legally binding.  It was, in fact, not, and would have also required an Act of Parliament had the result been Yes.  The 2011 referendum on replacing First Past the Post with the Alternative Vote system was  however legally binding.  Thanks to Austin Harrington for the spot!