A landmark report, The Roadmap to a People’s Vote, today sets out a clear route towards securing the people of the United Kingdom their democratic right to have their voice heard on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
It answers key questions about practicality, viability and legality which have been asked of the People’s Vote campaign as it has attracted growing popular and parliamentary support in recent weeks.
The document is authored by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the former Secretary General of the European Convention which wrote Article 50, as well as the former UK ambassador to the United States, Permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service.
It draws on discussions with constitutional and legal experts, as well as politicians and business people, in the UK and elsewhere in the EU. They include: Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at King's College London; Richard Corbett MEP; Jonathan Faull, former Director-General of the European Commission's Brexit task force; Dominic Grieve QC MP, the former Attorney General; MT Rainey, the former deputy chair of Channel 4; Meg Russell, Professor of British and Comparative Politics and Director of the UCL Constitution Unit; Matt Qvortrup, Professor of Applied Political Science at Coventry University; and Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, former Advocate General for Scotland and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.
The Article 50 process: whether the process can, if necessary, be stopped and what the implications would be.
- The Article 50 letter notified the EU of our intention to leave, but intentions can change. Up until the date the Article 50 deadline expires, we still have all the rights of a member-state, and, if necessary, withdraw the letter.
- Withdrawing the Article 50 letter would be cost free, since the terms of our EU membership cannot be changed without our agreement as a member state. However, if we were to leave and then at some future stage re-apply for membership, the terms would have to be negotiated afresh.
Legislating for a People’s Vote: how Parliament could either force or encourage the Government to legislate for a People’s Vote and, if necessary, secure an extension of the Article 50 timetable.
- MPs will have a series of opportunities to either encourage or force the Government to legislate for a People’s Vote. There are currently at least six plausible parliamentary routes, but events over the coming months may create further possibilities.
- In passing the necessary legislation, nothing should be rushed, but the urgency of the situation would create a big incentive for MPs and the Government to proceed swiftly. The principles of clarity, speed and simplicity should be applied at every stage.
- There would be no difficulty obtaining an extension of the Article 50 timetable to allow a People's Vote to take place. If Parliament judged that it was necessary to delay the March 29th deadline so that it could consult the people in a democratic vote, the Government would not face any political or procedural obstacle to this.
The question, franchise and rules: what the question on the ballot paper might be, as well as the voting rules and franchise.
- The simplest solution would be a binary choice on the ballot paper, either “no deal versus stay” or “the deal versus stay”. In our view, if there is a deal, the most pressing question for the country would be whether that deal is better than the one we already have inside the EU. And if there is no deal, the country deserves the right to say whether it nevertheless still wants Brexit.
- However, we recognise there are arguments in favour of other formulations and we do not entirely rule out, for instance, a referendum with three options if it could command majority support in Parliament. But, for reasons of simplicity, speed and clarity, as well as past experience, it is unlikely such a proposal would prevail.
- There is a case for widening the franchise, and for tighter rules on campaigning on social media. But given the timescale and the need for speed, clarity and simplicity, there may be practical limits on what changes could be made. These issues must not become a barrier to the imperative of giving the people a vote on the outcome of the negotiations.
Lord Kerr said:
“More than two years since the 2016 referendum, a political, economic and possibly constitutional crisis is gathering across the United Kingdom. Our view is that the most viable and democratic way of resolving it is to allow the public to have their say on Brexit. To deny them a voice challenges the basic principle of informed consent.
“People want the right to decide. Polling by YouGov this summer has demonstrated clear backing, by 45 per cent to 35 per cent, for a public vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations. This rises to a margin of two-to-one - 50 per cent to 25 per cent – if talks break down and the UK leaves without any deal.
“Such levels of support have inevitably raised questions about the feasibility, legality and practicality of a People’s Vote. We welcome this scrutiny because it is a further sign of how people from all parties and of none, including many who previously opposed a public vote, are now turning towards it as the best – if not the only – way forward.
“The die is not irrevocably cast, there is still time and, until the UK has left the EU, the Article 50 letter can be withdrawn. If there is a majority in Parliament for a People’s Vote, there are multiple routes to securing one and, as the process unfolds, more opportunities for the House of Commons to assert its will may emerge. Should the UK need more time for a People’s Vote, there is little doubt that the other 27 Member States would agree the necessary extension of the Article 50 timetable.
“Given the gravity of the situation our country and our democracy are facing, it is important that no decisions are made in haste. And yet we do not have the luxury of time. Of course, it will ultimately be for our elected representatives to determine the precise route to a People’s Vote and the mechanics by which it would operate. Equally, the urgency of this crisis means that these decisions should prioritise speed, clarity and simplicity at every stage.
“Indeed, to waste time or to do nothing are perhaps the worst options of all. History will not, in our opinion, be kind to any politician who hides behind purely logistical arguments, legalese or arcane parliamentary procedure in order to deny people a vote on the outcome of these Brexit negotiations at such a fragile and crucial moment for our country.”
Notes to editors:
The report can be read in full here.