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.


Many of those who insist that the 2016 referendum was only advisory are now demanding a second referendum. 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 the right decisions. Like its EU masters, the 'People's Vote' brigade object to the British people's outrageous interference in British politics.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said in 2016 that 'calls for a second referendum' would be seen as coming from elites 'who think they know best'. He said, "I think it comes across as disrespectful to those who voted Leave." Now Mr Umunna calls for a second referendum, as part of elites who think they know best, and, yes, Mr Umunna, it does indeed come across as disrespectful to those who voted Leave, and also as disrespectful to all those who believe in respecting the democratic process.

As Thomas Hobbes wrote, "the wish of the majority shall be taken as the will of all … they are bound by the decisions made by agreement of the majority. And that is a Democracy …" (De Cive, 1642.) And, "every one, as well as he that Voted for it, as he that Voted against it, shall Authorise all the Actions and Judgements, of that Man, or Assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own." (Leviathan, 1651.) Jean-Jacques Rousseau agreed: "the vote of the majority always binds the rest."(Social Contract, 1762.)

From Chapter 1 of Brexit: the road to freedom:

When parliament passed a law authorising a referendum, it accepted that the people had sovereignty. After the referendum, Parliament's job was to give effect to the will of the political sovereign, that is, the nation. The people were the sovereign. Parliament had no sovereignty over the people. As Professor Vernon Bogdanor pointed out, "The sovereignty of the people trumps the sovereignty of Parliament." In a democracy the people were sovereign. In the EU the state is sovereign, because it distrusts the people.

The point of a referendum is that the whole people decide, it is sovereignty, it is democracy. It is control, it is power, it is responsibility. We the people are in charge – but only for a day. It should be for longer. After the vote, we needed to keep this control, to hold this responsibility.

Our referendums in Britain were about constitutional issues – the method of voting (2011), national unity (2004 and 2014), national independence (1975 and 2016). What could be more democratic than asking all the sovereign people to decide vital national matters? Our Supreme Court was the people. We were called upon to decide and settle constitutional questions. We did not give advice. The people were part of government, the fourth estate, the fourth power, rightly able to overrule all the others, because the people are the ultimate source of sovereignty. Parliament did not embody democracy. The people did. The whole overruled the part. In a democracy, who else should have the authority to settle constitutional questions?

Parliament should represent the expressed and collective decision of the people. It was a national vote, not one counted constituency by constituency. So, all MPs, however their constituents voted, were obliged to respect our decision, as they had voted to do. They should all uphold that decision. Every democrat was obliged to accept the result. Or should elections be decided on who conducted the nicer campaign, not on the votes cast? Democracy is a system of rule where the people's preferences govern policies, where elected representatives carried out the people's will and did not instead impose their own preferences.

Some enemies of democracy tried to use parliament to overturn the will of the people. Parliament, they said, was sovereign. It was, in the sense that no force outside Britain, no foreign country or organisation, could tell it what to do. But parliament was not sovereign over the people. Once you departed from the principle that parliament derived its authority from the people and must serve the people, you were going down a road leading to fascism. In a democracy, politicians are the servants of the people and do what we the people tell them to do. Tony Blair and some other pro-EU politicians thought that the people must do what politicians told them to do. This anti-populism has become a greater threat to democracy than populism. The greatest threat to democracy was not our majority vote to leave the EU, but the minority attempt to overthrow that decision.

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Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
246 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street
London W1B 5TB
United Kingdom
Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
Washington D.C. Representative : John O'Sullivan CBE
Founder Chairman : Lord Harris of High Cross
Head of Media: Jack Soames