The problem of losers’ consent inherent in the UK drive to Brexit

Perhaps the fundamental problem about Brexit is that of consent, and that arguably almost half the voting population do not consent to it. A major underlying weakness of the Brexit strategy being pursued, almost to destruction, by PM May was highlighted today just as Parliament gets close to voting on, and it is being assumed at present, reject her deal with the EU. That is that the government took a very close 2016 referendum result, one that was advisory, as the cue to commence Britain’s exit from the EU. May was delivering a speech today about her deal, and as now is common practice issued an advanced briefing in which she compared tomorrow’s vote with that in 1997 over the Welsh referendum.

Losers’ consent

There’s a nice set of Twitter comments by the Welsh academic Richard Wyn Jones about May’s unfortunate comparison of the current situation with the decision to accept the Welsh Referendum result on Welsh devolution in 1997. It’s about “losers’ consent”. The Welsh referendum was won on a very small margin and yet it was decided to go ahead, with an effort to win over the losers to the deal, unlike today.

The Tories at the time voted against this, and one of those was our good lady, Mrs May. Wyn Jones points out that no effort has been made to address the views of Remainers, which is why we have the problem we have today, which in this blog I call a crisis of legitimacy.In wales after 1997, by contrast, a big effort was made to reach out across the partisan divide and embrace the dissenting parties in the development of the Assembly and its work.

As Wyn Jones points out, devolution in Wales has since been seen as a success.

A weakening of democracy

A majority of the UK voting population, as evidenced in opinion poll majorities on the question of how they would vote if there was a fresh referendum, would now vote in favour of Remain. Moreover the 48% losing number in 2016 was a slender margin. There is a reasonable presumption that around half of voters do not accept the UK referendum result. This in itself weakens democracy, unless there is a determined policy to address the problem, which there currently isn’t. Mrs May is arguing that to not go ahead with her deal will weaken democracy, but arguably the harm has already been done with the decision after the 2016 result to go ahead with Brexit without addressing the issue of losers’ consent.

There was no detailed or developed Brexit policy on the table in 2016. Indeed much that was presented in favour at the time was very vague and since either been withdrawn or disputed. Certainly there was no worked government policy proposal. In all the debates that have followed, it is evident that there is not enough support for any one deal. Both politicians and public are very divided. The lessons are blatantly obvious, and one might reasonably ask whether Brexit can sensibly proceed on this basis. None are so blind as they who cannot see.

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