“The People have spoken – the bastards”
-Dick Tuck, political strategist for John F. Kennedy
Imagine a general election in which an incumbent Prime Minister faced a challenge from a party led by three of four recognisable political names making three or four big, memorable political promises. Imagine also that this Prime Minister suffered a narrow defeat and offered his resignation the next day. Imagine, then, that the three or four big names who had led the opposition challenge admitted their big promises had all been made up and all but one of them hastily withdrew from the political scene. Imagine, finally, that the supporters of this insurgent party told the rest of us that there would be no further elections ever; that this state of affairs was the settled will of the British people and we would now have a government of this sort in perpetuity because anything else would be undemocratic.
This is, in a nutshell, what the 48% of us who voted to remain in the EU (as well as the considerable numbers we’re told may now be rethinking the wisdom of their decision) are facing up to now. This referendum was binding; the UK must now leave the EU leaving no way open for it to return. This is exactly as democratic as the mandate handed to the Empire in Star Wars. When the Galactic Senate grants the evil Chancellor Palpatine the powers he needs to eventually declare himself emperor and rule the Galaxy unchallenged and in perpetuity, Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala watches on in despair as her fellow senators cheer the decision to the rafters, remarking ruefully: “so this is how liberty dies- with thunderous applause.” Her sentiments reflect exactly how I felt on the morning of Friday 24th June.
Article 50 hasn’t been triggered yet and, in our democracy, parliament is sovereign. If a majority of our MPs fight this nonsense with sufficient force (an overwhelming majority of them campaigned to remain after all) there is no reason why there shouldn’t still be a way back from the brink. Yes, of course a new mandate would be needed to overturn the verdict of the British people but there is no reason why this would have to be a second referendum- although that is also a viable option, especially if it were presented as a vote on the negotiating position the government were planning to take forward. Another option would simply be for MPs to force a general election. Such a strategy would rely on a new Labour leader or maybe even a totally new grouping of broadly progressive, pragmatic, internationalist MPs, but times like these can force major realignments; maybe that’s something to be embraced.
There are a range of options which could give the British people an opportunity to reconsider their decision as the events of the next few weeks and months to play out. When people decide they regret their choice of government, they know the time will always come when they can change their mind. There is nothing undemocratic about applying the same principle to the outcome of this referendum.