The ‘Will of the People’ is a nonsense argument for Brexit

Brexiteers don’t understand British democracy. There is no ‘will of the people.’

The argument that politicians, such as the disgraced former Defence Minister Liam Fox, keep making is that you have to respect the outcome of the referendum and follow through. They argue that to have a second referendum is not democratic, because the first one was the ‘will of the people,’ which cannot be changed. They also argue that Remainers should shut up and accept the outcome.

The arguments that a vote cannot be changed by another vote, and that the losers have to sit back and accept the outcome, are completely undermined by two established realities of the British democratic process. In effect, they are nonsense. This is why.

Firstly, in the UK we regularly have a vote, reach an outcome, then at a later stage we challenge that outcome with another vote and overturn it. That is our electoral cycle. We have a general election and elect a government. They have a go at implementing their policies. At some point later there is another election, and if those policies aren’t working and the will of the people has changed, we elect a different government. We change the outcome of the previous vote in a new vote. That is how our entire system works.

Theresa May herself tried to challenge the will of the people by calling an early election to change the outcome of the previous one. At the next election it is very likely that the outcome of the last election will be changed again. Indeed, joining the EU was the result of a referendum, and was therefore ‘the will of the people,’ and now another referendum is suggesting we leave the EU, which is also the ‘will of the people.’

If we can have a second vote in 2016, and change the will of the people as it stood in 1975, the Leave supporters don’t make a lot of sense saying we can’t have a referendum in 2019 to query the result of the 2016 one. Either referenda can overturn the will of the people, as it did in 2016, or they can’t. When the situation has changed materially, putting the new situation to the people is a reasonable and democratic thing to do.

This reflects two important things. Firstly, the ‘will of the people’ is not fixed in a single moment in time, but is a constantly changing, fluid thing. The will of the people responds to the actions of the politicians, and other factors around them, and changes constantly. Secondly, our electoral outcomes are also never fixed permanently, but are always challenged and changed by further elections. That is British democracy; a system of constant challenge and change. There is no reason at all why one referendum cannot be challenged by another referendum after the people have given the politicians a chance to act on the outcome of the first one, and then been judged for their work.

To suggest that the referendum outcome is fixed, permanent, and cannot be challenged in no way reflects the reality of our electoral system, which is the opposite to that. Only an idiot would say this.

Secondly, the argument that the losers should shut up and stop challenging the outcome also doesn’t reflect the reality of British democracy. That would be like arguing that in an election where the Conservative party wins, the Labour party should disband, and all Labour and non-Conservative voters should cease to oppose the government and just play along. It doesn’t work like that. In British politics, when one group loses, they continue to argue their case, often as the Opposition, and fight to have that case adopted at the next election. Reflected into the referendum, that translates into Remainers continuing to argue their case, and fighting at another vote for their case to win. This is normal.

Nothing in British politics is set in stone. No opinion, or ‘will of the people,’ is ever deemed permanent. All of this continues to change, adapt, and evolve over time. Governments come and go, policies come and go with them. The will of the people is different on a day by day basis, it is changeable like the weather, and the politicians have to adapt to it.

Lastly, sometimes the politicians are so wrong that the people exert their will to stop them doing something stupid. Take the Poll Tax riots. There was an election, the winning government proceeded with a policy which you could argue was electorally ‘the will of the people.’ The people did not support it, and it was stopped. The Thatcher government, and her Poll Tax, were the ‘will of the people’ as expressed in an election. The Poll Tax riots were also the ‘will of the people,’ as expressed on the streets. Nobody argued that the Poll Tax had to go ahead because it was ‘the will of the people.’ That would have been absurd.

Translated into Brexit, there is no reason why a policy adopted by an elected government cannot be rejected by the people, even outside of an election. Our politicians are not dictators, they serve at our pleasure, and when we feel they are misguided, they have to listen to that because they face re-election at some point.

Thatcher reversed the Poll Tax. May can reverse Brexit.

Admittedly the truth, and facts, don’t really seem to bother many Brexiteers, so this may just be another instance in which facts don’t impact on their thinking. I would suggest that any politician who uses the term ‘the will of the people,’ immediately shows themselves to be an idiot with no real grasp of British politics. We need someone with a klaxon to make an embarrassing noise every time someone like Liam Fox uses ‘the will of the people’ in an argument.

The truth is that the Brexit referendum is totally discredited. The win was based on outright and proven lies by our own politicians, illegal electoral fraud by the Leave campaign, and interference by the Russian government and Cambridge Analytica. I cannot think of a constitutional vote in this country that has been more discredited. On top of that, it is increasingly being shown that there is no way to leave the EU and come out better off, so any form of Brexit will leave the UK worse off than if it stayed in the EU.

This is one of those moments where the politicians should, and normally would, admit that the experiment hasn’t worked. Whether they return to the people to ask their will again, now armed with a lot more facts, or they just accept their responsibility as our elected representatives and stop Brexit because it is not good for the country, there is no reason at all why Brexit cannot be challenged, reversed, or changed in some way.

The only real reason this is still going on is because Theresa May is trapped in a corner. She wants to hang on to power, as does her party, but she is beholden to the DUP and her own hard-right Brexit MPs for her majority in Parliament, and for her Premiership. A more principled politician would resign and call an election, putting an end to this highly damaging period in British political history. A stronger politician would remove the whip from the small group of Brexiteers in her party.

At the same time, blame also falls on the Labour party for failing to put forward a credible opposition. It is incredible that with such a terrible government, the best Labour can do is come level with the Tories in the polls. With that in mind, Corbyn should also resign. It’s clearly time for a new generation of politicians to take over and restore some order and sanity to British politics, and to the country’s future. Sadly, I can’t see either ‘leader’ doing anything that is good for the UK. In other times, better politicians acted with more grace and dignity.

I would say that the Remainers are not sore losers, but the Leavers are terrified winners, scared that their win might be overturned in another vote. Surely if they were confident that Brexit is good for Britain, they’d be happy to go to the people to affirm that belief, armed with honest and true information.

So long as people, mainly the Brexiteers, cling to this fallacy about the ‘will of the people,’ and not challenging the referendum outcome, the UK will remain in a death spiral, slowly boiling like the frog in the cooking pot.

Writing about politics, history, and society. Also at,, @ts_writing

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Tobias Stone

Tobias Stone

Writing about politics, history, and society. Also at,, @ts_writing

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