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29 September 2017updated 09 Oct 2017 4:29pm

I’ve annotated the government’s response to the petition calling for another Brexit referendum

Nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed.

By Jonn Elledge

It’s funny how some numbers that sound big are actually small, isn’t it? If 111,507 people turned up at your door demanding you do something, you’d probably feel under quite some pressure to do it.

But there are more than 65 million people in the UK: those 111,507 people are less than 0.2 per cent of the population. So it is that Theresa May’s government feels quite happy to ignore them and get on with doing exactly what it wanted to do anyway.

That, at least, is the subtext of its response to a petition on the official parliamentary website demanding that it “hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal”. At time of writing, it’s been signed by 111,512 people (ooh, that’s five more since I started writing) – and the rules state that any petition which tops 100,000 signatures “will be considered for debate in parliament”.

But “considered” is one of those weasel words. As I type I am considering the idea of buying everybody reading this dinner. I have now finished considering it. I have decided that will not in fact be buying you dinner after all.

Such, effectively, was the government’s response to that petition (ooh, 111,521; I got distracted by Twitter for a moment). The short version of its response was, “Lol, no”. The long version, with my commentary, is below.

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On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Yep, that definitely happened, I remember that part.

The UK government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people…

Right, yes.

…and so there will be no second referendum.

…and let me stop you right there.

Another referendum would not be a betrayal of the will of the people: it would be a way of confirming that the will of the people remains unchanged. If you really, genuinely respect the will of the people, you should be totally OK with asking the people what their will is.

And this referendum, remember, wouldn’t be a mere repeat of the 2016 one. This is not – as it’s sometimes portrayed by the sort of gammon-faced men who shout “UNDEMOCRATIC!” whenever one suggests actually voting on something – a case of asking the same question again until you get the right answer. Rather, it would be about the specifics of an actual departure deal, and whether it is better than the status quo.

So, I have to ask: why are Leavers so afraid of democracy?

The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The war in Iraq was supported by a clear majority in the House of Commons, too. That doesn’t mean it was the right decision. Parliament can be wrong.

Which is fine, because a key principle of the British constitution is that no Parliament can bind its successor. So, this bit is irrelevant. They’re just trying to fill the space.

On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Yes, you said that already. Those exact same words were in literally the last paragraph.

The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history.

You know what has the second-largest democratic mandate in UK political history? Staying in the European Union.

That to me suggests this is a stupid argument.

(I did say that numbers didn’t always mean what you think they mean.)

In the 2017 general election more than 85 per cent of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

OK, this bit’s just fucking stupid.

The two largest parties both committed to respecting the result, for all sorts of their own reasons. And people voted for one of those two for all sorts of their own reasons, too (often, I suspect, the reason was: to stop the other one).

This does not mean that every one of those voters agreed with everything on that party’s platform, or imply support any particular stance on Brexit now.

And do you want to know how I know this? Because I voted Labour, yet I find that, somehow, I still support another referendum.

I know, right? Mind. Blown.

There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.

Pure assertion, with no argument behind it whatsoever. That’s always a sign of intellectual confidence, that is.

The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government to make sure we do just that.


Rather than second-guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union…

Hang on, second-guessing is exactly what the government is doing at the moment. Another referendum is literally the exact opposite of guessing: it’s asking.

These bloody people.

…the challenge now is to make a success of it – not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

OK, fine, this is a decent target to aim for.

But… what if the government doesn’t make a success of it? What if instead it manages to make a right old balls up of it, and rather than a strong relationship with the EU we end up with a bloody terrible one?

Surely then it’s not unreasonable to double-check that this is actually what the public want? More than that: surely it’s in the government’s own interests to check it’s what the public actually wants, before it takes the whole country barrelling over the cliff?

Unless of course it’s not worried about the public at all, but about a couple of dozen eurosceptic Tory MPs whose betrayal could bring it down. That, admittedly, might change the equation a little.

Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

More repetition of things that are true but not directly relevant to the question of a second referendum.

As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the government is determined to see through that instruction.

This is just the same bloody argument again with different words isn’t it? Nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed.

Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded.

So we can turn back then, can we?

This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

Oh, no, apparently we can’t. 

Also, this is a strange new definition of the word “meaningful” at work here. As a bank robber, I am offering you a meaningful choice: either you can give me all the money in your vaults, or you can accept my decision to shoot you in the head.

The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union…

That’s the fourth time you’ve said that. 

…but we are not leaving Europe.

Oh the laws of physics still work then do they? Well, that is a relief, I was worried we were about to float off towards the Arctic.

We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home.

We aim to deliver shiny new unicorn eggs to every household.

We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

And we will do that by telling everyone who disagrees with us to shut up or fuck off.

-Department for Exiting the European Union

That’s the sign off noting who it was who answered the petition: that’s the institution that’s speaking here.

Is anyone surprised that the Department for Exiting the European Union would support our departure from the European Union? It’s like asking the Ministry of Defence if it fancied abolishing the army, or the Department of Health how it feels about crisps. If you actually want to look like you’ve seriously considered this petition, don’t hand it to people who might be put out of a job if we enacted it.

Petition’s up to 111,616 now, by the way. 

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