Natalie Bennett: With the right campaign, we can stop Brexit

We have the chance to hold a second referendum and stay in the EU. But only if the campaign is led by the grassroots.

The need for a so-called ‘second referendum’ – or as I’d prefer, a ‘ratification referendum’ – on Brexit is now clear. And it’s winning a wide range of backers, including the OECD just this week.

First and most fundamentally, democracy demands it. The vote on June 23rd 2016 set a direction of travel. It said, to put it in concrete terms: ‘drive north from Sheffield’. But depending on where you’re heading and the distance travelled, that allows for a wide range of destinations, from Leeds to John O’Groats.

Nothing in the referendum debate, or the vote, indicated which of those it might have been – or any point in between. Daniel Hannan, Nigel Farage and many other arch-leavers at various times said we could stay in the single market. The idea of ‘no deal’ was not even on the radar.

Secondly, we don’t have a stable government or a united Cabinet. The one we’ve got can’t even manage a debate among themselves on what destination they want.

The government aren’t providing leadership. So it must revert to the people.

Thirdly, party politics no longer gives people in most places a choice in our current electoral system. There are fervent Leave MPs within a lukewarmly a Labour Party that supports a long-transition period but eventually Brexit.

And there are passionate Remainers in the largely Leave-backing Tory Party. Only the Greens and Lib Dems line up fairly solidly behind a Stop Brexit position. So with our current politics, an election can’t solve the Brexit mess. (Indeed, with our current electoral system, an election can’t solve anything at all).

The people decided the direction. They must also be allowed to decide whether the final destination is what they want. That means a ratification referendum.

The argument is further strengthened by the fact that the debate since June 2016 has gradually built a far greater public understanding of the issues of Brexit – something that should have happened before the first vote, but couldn’t possibly in the scant period provided.

I think of an audience at the Green Belt festival. After an explanation of the insoluble problem of the Irish border, an audience member expressed with exasperation – to general approval: “Why weren’t we told this before the vote?” People have been told now, and have had a chance to hear.

If the ratification referendum were held at the end of 2018, if and when a deal had been done (or it had become clear that a deal would not be done), the public will be in a far better place to take part than they were in 2016.

But speaking as someone who wants Britain to remain as part of the EU, I sympathise with the cry I heard in York last weekend at a Citizens of Europe event: “But what if we lose the second referendum?”

That’s why it is crucial that we start now to look to build the case for a Remain campaign that looks vastly different to that of 2016. That means this needs to be a campaign led from the grassroots, making the people’s case for Europe.

We need to make the case for EU membership as the way that we can work together with people across Europe – to build a different sort of Europe.

There’s much that needs to change, to democratise, in Europe, as the Green Party has always said. But we’re starting at least starting from a better base than in Westminster.

If we’re going to make multinational companies pay their fair share of taxes, we’re far more likely to succeed by working together through the instruments of the EU than on our own.

If we’re going to defend the environmental standards hard won over decades in the Union, far better to stay in and keep them by default, than put them seriously at risk, as Brexit is doing.

If we’re going to defend human rights in the UK and elsewhere, operating through a multinational format is clearly the way to go.

As I write, the European Parliament vote on banning the glyphosate weedkiller has yet to be taken. But however it goes, there’s no doubt that citizen activism has been a key force in bringing a ban on this ubiquitous product into the range of the possible.

And when it comes to the neonicotinoid pesticides that are harming bees and other pollinators, it was our EU partners who helped drag the UK into this essential step for all of our futures.

None of these were arguments which David Cameron and his friends were ever going to make in 2016. Indeed, they never seriously tried to make any kind of positive case for the EU at all in the first referendum.

But we have the time now to build a different kind of Remain campaign. Not a lot of time, true. We need to start today.

Natalie Bennett is the former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

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12 Responses to “Natalie Bennett: With the right campaign, we can stop Brexit”

  1. Dave Roberts

    So the Greens don’t believe in democracy. I voted remain but I am sick of the left’s contempt for those who didn’t and the way they portray them as fascists.

  2. Chester Draws

    The government aren’t providing leadership. So it must revert to the people.

    The very people that voted Leave, despite the government of the day opposing it?

    And then proceeded to vote for the party most likely to deliver it in the general election. (Or has Ms Bennett conveniently forgotten that her side didn’t win the second round either?)

    Ms Bennett didn’t like a first referendum, didn’t like the general election but somehow has convinced herself that it’s all a stitch-up and third time will be a charm!

  3. Mike Stallard

    “But speaking as someone who wants Britain to remain as part of the EU,”

    You bet you do! Greenpeace and a lot of other greenies are lobbying like mad there and their views are consequently the policy of the EU. Fracking anyone? Wind power? Solar panels in rainy old Britain in the winter?

    If you really want us to be governed by a distant, probably corrupt committee of unelected foreigners in perpetuity the of course you will stay in the EU!

    We need to accept reality, to join EFTA/EEA as the least worst option and go from there. That way, Ireland, the ECJ, and the money problem can easily be settled and trade simply will not be an issue. And we can leave the ghastly EU too.

  4. Chris Lovett

    Well, that has brought the fruit cakes out, emboldened no doubt by the aftermath of the ridiculous non binding opinion poll in June 2016. Let’s deal with Mr. Stallard’s contribution first. Fracking is banned in many EU states – it’s a British problem. Wind is now the cheapest energy source – as I type 27% of the UK’s electricity is being generated by wind power. ( Solar pv works even on dull days and the cost of pv panels is falling constantly.

    The EU undemocratic? Brexiteers often claim that the EU is run by ‘unelected bureaucrats’. It isn’t true. The European Commission has a role in administering EU law, but it isn’t in charge.
    Laws can only be passed by the DIRECTLY ELECTED European Parliament, together with the Council of the European Union, whose members are the ministers from each government of EU countries.
    The European Parliament has the democratic power to accept, amend or reject proposed laws and regulations.
    The European Commission President is ELECTED by the Parliament, which must also approve the individual Commissioners. The Parliament has the democratic power to sack the entire Commission at any time during its five-year tenure.
    Indeed, the Commission is ultimately responsible to the elected Parliament, and not the other way round.
    Another organisation, called the European Council, consists of the democratically elected leaders of each EU country. It’s separate to the Council of the European Union, and often people get the two organisations mixed up.
    The European Council sets the political goals and priorities of the European Union. It does not negotiate or adopt EU laws, but it does decide the agenda that the European Commission must follow.
    Treaties, and any new country joining, have to be unanimously agreed by the Parliaments of every single EU country.
    Indeed, all EU treaties since Britain joined 44 years ago were fully debated and democratically agreed by our Parliament in Westminster. Not once were any changes to our EU membership imposed upon us, and neither could they be, as the EU is a democracy.
    Between 1999 and March 2016, the UK was indeed outvoted in the Council 57 times. It abstained 70 times, and voted with the majority – wait for it – 2,474 times.
    According to recent research by VoteWatch Europe, over 97% of adopted EU laws in the last 12 years were supported by the UK government and MEPs.
    During our membership, Britain has helped to run and rule the EU, and not the other way round. Whatever the EU is and has become, Britain helped to create it.
    Indeed, the EU can become whatever all its members unanimously agree it can become. But of course, that only applies to EU members, and not to ex-members. Outside of the EU, Britain will only be able to watch as the future of our continent is decided without us.

  5. greg

    Indeed, Mike S, so-described ‘Green’ organisations are actually paid by the European Union to lobby the European Union; it’s beyond parody.

    As for Ms Bennett, does she take the British people for fools?

    Does she honestly believe that 17.4 million people will merely shrug and continue having EU constitutions being imposed upon them?


  6. Peter den Haan

    So “the Greens don’t believe in democracy” because Natalie wants to allow the people to say whether the final deal is what they had in mind… given that that final deal (or no deal) is going to be very, very different from everything which was falsely promised during the referendum campaign, it strikes me as the one thing that can save democracy in this instance.

    It’s really rather rich that those who want to give the electorate a say are derided as undemocratic. A mix between Kafka and newspeak.

    Then there’s mention of a “distant, probably corrupt committee of unelected foreigners”. Chris did a good job on that already. I detect a Trumpian note in the wholly unsubstantiated “probably corrupt” allegation; it reeks of xenophobia. I might add that you’ll find British representatives throughout the EU bodies, and of course they don’t “govern” us. They have no more power than Britain willingly signed up to, and every change in such powers requires our agreement. The EU remains fundamentally a treaty-based union of sovereign nation states.

    It’s ironic that the EU is constantly accused of being “unelected” while (1) MEPs are elected, arguably more fairly and democratically than FPTP MPs, and (2) Eurosceptics do not actually want greater democracy in the EU. Currently, Brussels derives its power from the treaties and bartering between the 28 constituent states, whereas direct elections would inevitably confer more legitimacy to the Brussels bureaucracy in its own right. That’s the last thing Eurosceptics want.

    Then the idea that “17.4 million people [have] EU constitutions being imposed upon them”; well, the attempt to create an EU constitution failed until it morphed into a constitutional treaty, and it was never “imposed”. The 17.4 million you speak of have chosen this, or rather, their elected representatives have. The EU cannot “impose” such things. It’s subject to multilateral negotiations and national vetoes. You’ve read too much Daily Mail/Express propaganda, I’m afraid. Maybe look into how the EU actually works one day.

    Chris Lovett is right. It seems the fruitcakes have been brought out in force.

  7. Chester Draws

    It’s really rather rich that those who want to give the electorate a say are derided as undemocratic. A mix between Kafka and newspeak.

    Richer than someone, once the electorate has had it’s say (and then again in a general election) wants them to have their say again, until they get it right?

    Because the electorate has had its say. What a lot of people deride is those that refuse to accept that say.

  8. Dave Roberts

    Would the writer of this article like to comment on these comments?

  9. Will

    No matter how well the campaign is conducted the British voters are quite capable of repeating the Leave result of the last referendum, after all, nobody expect a Leave vote and if it had been considered a possibility the referendum would never have been called.
    Brexit must go ahead and the choice now is either to minimize the damage by staying as close to the EU as possible ( EEA and EFTA membership) so that a new generation can rejoin when demographic change produces a pro EU population OR to let the Tory headbangers go for Hard Brexit so that the voters realise their mistake quickly and demand to rejoin once the national humiliation and impoverishment are seen as the inevitable consequence of the public’s foolish choice.

  10. greg

    @Peter den Haan – the UK people were promised a vote on an EU constitution; when the constitution was voted down by the people of France and the Netherlands, ‘constitution’ became ‘Treaty’ – in name only, as many of the EU’s leaders informed us later.

    Constitutions, that require a vote, changing their titles and not requiring a vote are impositions – EU residents have to pay taxes for numerous new departments and posts – that nobody has voted for: is that democracy?

    And it’s OK to say that national governments imposing treaties are acceptable, but in the UK’s case, a vote was promised and people voted for our government on that basis.

    Furthermore, if the EU wishes to address its obvious democratic deficit it should seek to involve the EU residents as often as possible, and should have insisted that nation states hold a referendum: this it failed to do.

    But, I’m a happy person – I voted to leave the EU, and if it weren’t for the Lisbon Treaty, I believe that the UK would have voted to stay.

    The EU and its fans never learn – if you’re going to do something, do it democratically.

  11. Natalie Bennett

    Chris and Peter have said many of the things I would have said in response. And very well.

    The referendum didn’t provide any democratic direction on what type of Brexit, and our current government and parliament are incapable of doing that, so going to the people is the only democratic option. Otherwise you’re leaving the outcome of the most important choices in at least a generation to the sort of random chances that gave us Theresa May as prime minister.

    To call a ratification referendum (and it isn’t a “second referendum” because the question is far different) “undemocratic” is laughable. What’s “undemocratic” is our whole political system, which is why reform is a crucial part of the Brexit debate:

  12. Jay ginn

    Can we be sure that, if a ratification referendum resulted in a majority
    against the terms of leaving , the EU would allow UK to remain a full member
    of EU on the same terms as before the relevant ‘article ‘ triggered
    the current negotiations?

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