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A second EU referendum? Perhaps not a bad idea

Terry smiling headThere is a growing call for a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership. At first glance this looks like an act of bitterness by a bunch of ‘bad losers’, and all that. But, having thought about it, perhaps it’s not such a daft idea after all.

In a normal election there is an opportunity for a change of mind, and a change of government, usually within five years. In this case, the decision is said to be irreversible. And that’s where the problem lies.

It always struck me as a crucial shortcoming in the EU referendum process that there was neither a quota requiring a minimum turnout, nor a threshold on what would constitute a binding vote.

While the turnout was a respectable 72%, the vote was almost evenly split with 51.9% voting to leave and 48.1% to remain.

Somebody in pollster land should have been able to foresee that such a close vote would create a huge schism in the country. They even had the benefit of seeing the public fall-out from the Scottish independence vote in 2014 which, even on a wider 55-45% divide meant the country was close to going either way.

It is one thing for a tiny minority to consent to the will of the majority but quite another when one half of the electorate does not agree with the outcome of a vote.

Futhermore, on such a close result as Thursday’s it doesn’t take a psephologist to work out that if there was another vote tomorrow it could easily swing the other way.

A nationwide petition on the UK parliament website calling for a second referendum has already gathered 3.6 million signatures asking for a new rule to be implemented to ensure the deciding vote is at least 60%, based on a turnout of less than 75%.

While there is an investigation into the authenticity of some of the signatories, it does not take away from the validity of the argument. I would go further and say the majority ought to be nearer 70-75%.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says there should be a second poll once a deal has been negotiated with Brussels. At least this would give us some idea what we are voting for. One big problem with the Leave campaign was that we didn’t really have a clear idea what was on the table – and the uncertainty is the cause of all the market mayhem.

Sir Richard Branson has weighed in with a blog on the Virgin website, criticising the false promises made and taking issue with those in the Leave campaign who now admit to making errors.

Sir Richard is concerned at the impact the vote has had on the economy and global markets and calls on the UK government to have a ‘second look’. He writes: “The vast majority of MPs voted in by the electorate want the UK to stay as part of Europe.

“In light of the misrepresentations of the Leave campaign, Parliament should reject the results of this non-binding referendum as Nicola Sturgeon has announced she will do in Scotland’s Parliament.

“Before the UK government invokes Article 50 of the European Treaty and does irreversible damage to the United Kingdom, the people’s elected representatives must decide whether the facts that have emerged really warrant abandoning the EU and whether a second referendum will be needed.”

It is unlikely that there will be a second referendum, unless the situation deteriorates further and the Chancellor and regulators have promised to do whatever it takes to ensure financial stability.

But this in itself is a sad state of affairs to find ourselves in. In any case, there is only so much governments and regulators can do. As we discovered in 2008.


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