The Richmond by-election is not a mandate to reverse Brexit

The Richmond by-election victory for the Lib Dems has got the remainers rather over excited. Sarah Olney said the outcome had sent a “shockwave” through Downing Street and paved the way for Parliament to “override” the EU withdrawal referendum result. This is a particularly baffling conclusion to make; a by-election mandate of 20,000 hardly compares to the 17.4 million who voted Leave.

At least it revealed the real motive behind the calls for a second referendum, and it isn’t a sincere desire for true democracy.

The calls for a second referendum from the likes of Tim Farron, Tony Blair and John Major are disingenuous to the extreme. Tim ‘nice but dim’ Farron is acting on the pretence of protecting democracy when he says the voice of the British people “must be heard”. They have been heard, loudly and clearly, yet he is insisting that the Lib Dems will vote against triggering Article 50 unless they are made to vote again.

The EU referendum took place after an intense campaign and a debate that has been taking place over four decades. The vote was the culmination of years of discussion, political fallout and national soul searching; there is now a mandate for the UK to leave the EU and for the Government to negotiate an exit settlement on our behalf.

A vote on the result of negotiation is a terrible idea, giving us a choice between the settlement negotiated, a hard Brexit or a last minute surrender where we beg the EU to let us stay and slink back in a weaker position than we have ever been. This would not settle the EU question, but it would degrade our democracy and kick the can down the road where a different kind of Euroscepticism would rebuild far more vociferously and bitterly.

As for John Major and Tony Blair, their sudden love for referendums says it all. It was the Maastricht Treaty that put rocket boosters under the Eurosceptic movement and set us on a path to leave, moving as it did towards a more explicitly political union. The Lisbon Treaty was another great advance for the project that deepened integration and exposed the anti-democratic tendencies of hardcore Europhiles.

Blair and Major didn’t give the public a vote on these constitutional transforming Treaties because they knew they would lose them. They did everything they could to avoid letting the public have a say and contributed greatly to the backlash that erupted on June 23rd.

The old Europhile boys club are a deceitful and duplicitous lot making a last minute rescue effort to save their rejected legacy of EU integration. Their modern-day equivalents are still in disbelief that they won’t be able to finish the job they started.

They want the UK to join France, Ireland and the Netherlands in the list of quashed rebellions against the EU. They have hit the height of delusion and they don’t understand that even if they achieved their desire for a second referendum the anger against their sheer shamelessness and moral bankruptcy would see the exit settlement endorsed comfortably.

The message of remainers is now that leaving the EU is too difficult, too complex and too risky. Our EU integration is irreversible. This portrays the EU as a prison; sure, it has home comforts and the facilities are good, but it’s still a prison. Is this really a good image? Is this the message they wish to convey? Reversing the referendum and keeping us in the EU would not seem like a glorious victory for them for long.

The consequences for our political culture would be dire and they’d soon realise that the instinctive Euroscepticism engrained in our culture will last as long as we are in the EU and won’t go away until we leave. The notion that we voted leave because of a slogan here or there is deluded nonsense, a great lie and over simplification from people who still can’t get their head around what is happening.

The man in the street who voted to leave has no time for these machinations. They voted leave and they expect that expression of democratic will to be honoured. If it isn’t the message is that voting doesn’t matter. That sentiment would pass onto the next generation and come back to haunt the political class in a very severe way.

We leave in a managed transition now, or toxify our politics for years to come and leave in a flurry of public anger a few years down the line. That’s the real choice.

Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Director of Online Communications.  Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle

Follow @con4lib on Twitter

Like Conservatives for Liberty on Facebook

The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty

Photo: Keith Edkins – licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


  1. A second referendum could at best offer a choice between hard brexit (i.e. dropping fully out of the EU with no deal agreed, and relying on WTO standards) or whatever deal the government negotiates. That is the only possible second referendum compatible with the following;

    1. The fact that both sides in the recent Brexit High Court case argued (and the court agreed) once article 50 is invoked there is no revoking it – we have 2 years to negotiate and failing agreement or extension we automatically drop out with no deal and rely on WTO terms;

    2. The vote for Brexit itself. The vote commits us to leave the EU – that much is clear. The question on the ballot paper was not ‘would you like the government to have a final attempt at renegotiation before we ask you to vote finally on whether we remain or leave on some new terms’ it was ‘should Britain remain in the EU or leave the EU’ the people chose to leave. Arguably it is true that nobody voted for the terms on which we would leave (though both sides did repeatedly say we’d leave the single market), but there was a clear decision to leave. If the Lib Dems feel that people need another say on the terms, the only sensible thing is to let people choose between the terms the government negotiates and leaving on WTO terms – such a second referendum is the only one even arguably compatible with the referendum on 23 June. If the second referendum that the Lid Dems seem to have in mind went ahead i.e. a referendum on whether to accept or reject the deal the government negotiates what would that mean? That the first referendum should be ignored? Or that the government should go away and try to get a different deal? Its hard to see why the former should prevail when a clear decision to leave has already been made, especially if, had a different choice been put (e.g. to leave not on any terms negotiated by the government but on WTO terms) it may have won a majority or (if there were three options) a plurality of the vote.

    I wonder what Mr Farron and his crew of illiberal anti-democrats would say to such a suggestion. I assume they would shy away from it, which tells you all you need to know about what their real agenda is.

  2. Helen Smith says:

    Fallon keeps saying we voted for departure, not destination. His big idea to save the day for Remain is to have a second referendum with two options, pretend to leave the EU or Remain in the EU, the original option of departure having been removed. How liberal, how democratic.

    • The (il)liberal (anti)democrats should really be pressed on what they think the options should be in any second referendum.

      If, as they keep telling us, they really do accept the result of the 23 June Referendum, then they should be amenable to a second referdum asking voters to decide between the following two options:

      1. We withdraw from the EU on terms negotiated by the government;

      2. We withdraw from the EU under the automatic drop-out provisions of article 50(3) (i..e after the elapse of 2 years from the date of giving notice under article 50(1)), with no deal and trading on WTO terms only.

      It seems to me that a second referendum with no remain option would be compatible with the first and, perhaps, a sensible way forward given the uncertainty as to what Brexit should mean. This solution should be acceptable to all democrats. I wonder what the supposedly liberal democrat party would make of it. Someone should ask them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *