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The Brexit vote deserves the same respect as Boaty McBoatface

Welsh voters are already regretting their decision. 

A snapshot of public opinion one day in June should not condemn us to 50 years of error and misery. Before referendum day, I said the winners would be those who told the most convincing lies. Leave did. We are all democrats, but only up to a point. Referendums are blunt instruments that favour the lowest common denominator of malleable public opinion. There are no takers for a poll on a return to capital punishment.
 
The UK Parliament traditionally obeys the decisions of referendums, although they are under no obligation to do so. The Brexit vote deserves the same respect as the vote which chose to name a state-of-the art ship Boaty McBoatface (it was named RRS Sir David Attenborough instead). There is a crescendo of anger rising in the Celtic nations against Theresa May’s Little Englander myopic insistence that a Hard Brexit must fall on the whole of the United Kingdom. Scotland is outraged that their 62 per cent rejection of Brexit will be ignored. Moderate opinion in Northern Ireland is aghast at the nightmare of a ruinously expensive, but ultimately unenforceable, hard border that will reverse improving relations with the Republic.

Referendums are not a reliable measure of public opinion, and do not deserve the respect of Holy Writ. On Tuesday, at the Public Administration Select Committee, the Brexit Leave team leaders were the main event. William Norton and Matthew Elliott whimpered that the promise of £350m a week for the NHS was a distant aspiration. Both have form. They also led the infamous "No" referendum case on the alternative vote 2011. They protested in horror at the suggestion that voters were fooled by posters saying our brave boys in Afghanistan would be denied protective equipment, and delicate babies would be denied health care, if the country voted for AV. By any standard, this was wild hyperbole. This conclusion was based on the gossamer-thin thread of an argument that that AV would cost money and Government would fund it from two politically suicidal budgets.

With the joys of instant rebuttal via iPad, I showed them the adverts of a soldier as a target for the bullets aimed at him by AV supporters. (To be fair, the "Yes" to AV campaign was also wildly off target, with a plea that it would stop MPs fiddling their expenses.) Voters obediently chose the biggest lie. The chance a fairer voting system that would reflect the opinion of the public is lost, probably for a generation.

Referendums should no longer trap governments. In September 2015, the Tory government firmly stated its decision. They asserted their right to over-rule the public’s majority view. Wales is already regretting its decision to vote Leave. The 48-52 vote was heavily influenced by the promise of billions of pounds for the NHS, and the crude incitement of racial fear and hatred. The Welsh academic Roger Scully asked in a July poll that searching question: "Imagine there was another referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU tomorrow. How would you vote?" The result was 46 per cent Remain, 41 per cent Leave.
 
Opposition parties are reluctant to appear to be bad democrats. They fear that attacking the Brexit result would be politically inept now. Time will embolden them. If Hammond’s promised "bumps" in the financial road ahead turn out to be a giant sinkhole into which the UK economy falls, caught in a tailspin of lost jobs and the falling pound, public opinion will demand a new vote. Second thoughts are always superior to first thoughts.

Paul Flynn is the MP for Newport West.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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