Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.


Oddly, many who insist that the 2016 referendum was only advisory are now calling for a second referendum, for a 'People's Vote'. If the first one was only advisory, how could a second one not be advisory too? What they mean is that pro-EU MPs and unelected pro-EU peers should make the important decisions in this country, not the uncouth British people, who can't be trusted to make them. Like its EU masters, the pro-second referendum camp is objecting to the British people's outrageous interference in British politics.

The following is an extract from Chapter 4 of Brexit: the road to freedom.

Cameron said to Parliament on 24 June 2016, "The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected. … The British people have made a very clear decision … There can be no doubt about the result. I'm clear and the Cabinet agreed this morning that the decision must be accepted and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin. … The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said on 24 June, "The British people have clearly spoken today, and their democratic will must now be fulfilled. … We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign - and to focus on that which unites us, rather than that which divides us."

On 24 June Corbyn said, "The British people have made their decision. We must respect that result and Article 50 has to be invoked now so that we negotiate an exit from the European Union." John McDonnell said, "The people have spoken and their decision must be respected."

The new Prime Minster Theresa May said on 30 June, "First, Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government and of Parliament to make sure we do just that. … The task in front of us is no longer about deciding whether we should leave or remain. The country has spoken, and the United Kingdom will leave the EU. The job now is about uniting the Party, uniting the country – securing the Union – and negotiating the best possible deal for Britain."

May said on 11 July, "make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change. Yet so many of our political and business leaders have responded by showing that they still don't get it. There are politicians – democratically-elected politicians – who seriously suggest that the Government should find a way of ignoring the referendum result and keeping Britain inside the European Union. And there are business leaders whose response has not been to plan for Britain's departure or to think of the opportunities withdrawal presents – but to complain about the result and criticise the electorate." May realised, as some did not, that the referendum decision mattered deeply, and that to let a minority overrule our majority decision would be a disaster for democracy.

McDonnell said on 15 November 2016, "Labour accepts the referendum result as the voice of the majority and we must embrace the enormous opportunities to reshape our country that Brexit has opened for us." On 19 January 2017, Corbyn said, "It is very clear. The referendum made a decision that Britain was to leave the European Union. … I've made it very clear the Labour party accepts and respects the decision of the British people. We will not block article 50." A Labour spokesperson said on 24 January, "Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50."

But Corbyn had also said, on 15 January, "A decision was made and we have to work around that." Not make it work, but work around it. He referred to 'the chaos of Brexit'. He said, "The Brexit vote isn't a one-off thing, it has got to be agreed by 27 national parliaments, it has got to be agreed by the European parliament." No, it did not. Under Article 50 (1), only notice to leave was necessary: "Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements." We had the right to leave, the EU had no right to stop our leaving at once and it had no right to impose any conditions. But Article 50 had been drafted (by Lord Kerr) to give the EU, not the departing state, all the negotiating leverage.

Adam Tomkins, a Conservative MSP for Glasgow, wrote, "Referendums, however, are not opinion polls whose verdicts we can celebrate or ignore as the case befits. They are formal, binding, decision-making devices. They represent not advice to government, but instructions to government. Had Scotland voted 'Yes' in 2014 the United Kingdom would not have been free to ignore or to seek to overturn the result. Likewise, in 2016: having asked the people for their decision we are now duty bound to give effect to it. The UK is leaving the EU not because the Tories have willed it – both the current Prime Minister and her predecessor campaigned and voted to remain, as did Sir John Major – but because parliament decided in the European Union Referendum Act 2015 to ask the people whether we should leave or remain, and the people gave their answer, calmly and clearly, just as the Scottish people gave their answer on the independence question in 2014."[i]

The pro-EU Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, said in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017, "… it is hard to overstate the damage that this Parliament would inflict on our democracy were we to reject the outcome of a referendum in which 33.5 million people voted. This was not an advisory referendum. None of us went to the door asking for advice. We warned of the consequences of leaving, and the majority of voters and the majority of constituencies voted leave with the clear expectation that that would actually happen."

Mr Streeting and the pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna wrote in the i on 2 February 2017, "Those who voted to leave were not duped by the right-wing media. They were not any more or less ignorant of the technical issues of the EU debate than were Remainers. They were no more or less bigoted in their views than Remainers. In fact, the division between Remainers and Leavers in the country is much less pronounced than people think. There exists a shared desire for national renewal and for Britain to be great again. People want a more equal, more decent Britain that is a moral leader, a creator, a trader, a connector, and an ideas maker in the world. A European country, if not a member of the EU. Neither Leavers nor Remainers want Britain turned into a bolt hole for the super-rich, a tax haven for monopoly capitalism, a sweatshop for Europe. Brexit demands that we construct an enduring social and economic settlement at home in the interest of working people, and a new strategic security and foreign policy for Britain in the world."

[i] In Gerry Hassan and Russell Gunson, editors, Scotland, the UK and Brexit: a guide to the future, Luath Press, 2017, p. 129.

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