How a Second Referendum would reach beyond Brexit

Prof. Gloria Moss

Voices are braying again for a Second Referendum, adding a familiar chorus to our Seasonal celebrations. We take a break from end of year festivities to look at the arguments advanced and look at what these might mean for the worlds of Sport, Education, Politics and the Law. They would make 2019 and the years following like no other, and make it life as we know it today a distant memory.

First, let us take a look at the arguments for a Second Referendum (SR).

Second Referendum Arguments

There are nine prominent voices, five arguing for a rerun on the basis of the difficulties and controversy now facing Parliament and four on the basis of changing circumstances and voters’ ignorance.

Problems in Parliament to blame

Of the six arguing for a SR on the basis of a messy situation in Parliament, the most recent voice is that of Dominic Grieve, former Attorney General, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield. Writing in the Guardian on 29 December, he wrote of the need to hand the issue back to the people in order to ‘calm the crisis’. Note that although he emphasises the need for a ‘rational outcome’ he ruled out the option of a ‘No deal’ option in any Second Referendum (SR). Grieve voted Remain in 2016.

Then Amber Rudd, one of the biggest Conservative Remain presences in the 2016 Referendum campaign, has argued for a SR ‘if parliament can’t agree’. She represents a constituency that voted by a margin of 55.9% to Leave the EU, and that voted her in by a margin of 346 votes, just 0.6% over the count of the nearest candidate.

Tony Blair, for his part, pushed in December for his latest drive for a re-run on the basis that it would resolve ‘division in parliament’. A staunch Remainer in the run-up to the Brexit vote with Blair referring to the ‘disenfranchised 48% Remainers in July 2016. So, mixed in here is comment on the size of the margin of the Brexit win, in line with comment by Southampton MP Alan Whitehead that the close vote does not oblige him to follow the majority leave tendency in his constituency.

Then, there is Gavin Barwell, currently Theresa May’s Chief of Staff. He is a Remainer who sees SR as ‘the only way out of this’. And, finally, Sadiq Khan, London Mayor and Remainer, whose calls for a SR are based on the Government’s poor handling of the issue.

So, five voices, all Remain, suggesting a SR because of controversy and crisis in Parliament. What of the other four voices?

Changing circumstances and people’s ignorance

The remaining three high-profile voices are pressing a different case. Tobias Ellwood, Tory Defence Minister, for example, stated that the Brexit agreement ‘is beginning to date and will eventually no longer represent a reflection of current intent’. So, a shelf life for a vote of two and a half years seems to be advocated here. By way of background, Ellwood voted Remain in his constituency of Bournemouth East where c.54% of constituents voted to leave.

Ellwood’s way of thinking is closely reflected by that of Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, a Remain advocate who spoke approvingly on Question Time of the maxim to ‘always measure twice before you cut’. In other words, no result should be considered final until it is obtained on two occasions. Then, according to Sunday Times reports, Cabinet Office Minister and May’s Deputy, David Lidington, is also pressing for a SR. Possible reasons? Lidington is MP for Aylesbury, and discussions with constituents who voted by a majority ofc.52% to leave, gave him to understand that they ‘had no idea actually how the EU worked’. So, voter ignorance might justify a SR?

Finally, former PM Gordon Brown, pushed for a SR in November, arguing that the situation ‘had changed’.

So we can see some patterns emerge (see Table 1):

Table 1: arguments for a Second Referendum

What can we see? It is clear that all those pressing for a SR are Remain supporters with a little over half viewing a revote as a way of healing divisions within Parliament. However, a SR will not address the twin sources of the problem namely: a Brexit deal that keeps Britain firmly tied to the EU (see cartoon below), and a Parliament in which 67% of its MPs are pro-Remain are unlikely to back the Leave decisions made by 64% of their constituencies.

The solution to these problems lies, not in a SR but in creating a deal that takes Britain out of the Single Market, ECJ and EU laws; and reminding MPs of Leave constituencies to back the Brexit decision made. A SR is a red-herring. Designed by Remainers, its purpose is, in all probability, to reverse the Brexit vote. An early argument here was the size of the Brexit win (under 4%) which some commentators considered too slim a basis for major change. The second set of arguments rest on the need to repeat the findings of important decisions. Issues of accuracy and changes in viewpoint are offered as factors here.

Logical consequences of accepting a Second Referendum?

As Aristotle said, ‘opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time’. So, if a SR is accepted, then the reasons underpinning it will need to be applied to all situations. Let us look briefly at how this would change the worlds of Sport, Education, Politics and Law.


England’s 1966 World Cup win should be replayed since the validity of the first of the two goals scored by England in extra time was the subject of enormous controversy and division.


All examinations must be taken at least twice in order to ensure that the results are reliable. Moreover, they must be repeated every two or three years to ensure the currency of people’s knowledge. Moreover, anyone failing to get a grade of choice as a result of differences of opinion amongst teaching staff should be able to retake their exams


All elections must be held at least twice to ensure the reliability of results. They must also be repeated at intervals of at least 2.5 years. Those winning with very small majorities (eg Amber Rudd with 346 votes) should resign and face the ballot box again. Moreover, controversial legislation must be rescinded and a Referendum held on the issue.


Penalty Charge notices (PCNs) must be rescinded where they cause problems (eg disturbance amongst the parties involved). Other legal decisions must be revisited where parties were ignorant of the law or where situations have changed.

Where will 2019 take us?

Boris Johnson has said that a Second Referendum ‘would provoke instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal’ while others justify it in terms of expediency and reliability. With a new year ahead, it would be wise to be consistent and selective in our decision-making. ‘No’ to a SR and keeping the rules of Sport, Education, Politics and Law as they are (and keeping the World cup!); or ‘Yes’ to a SR and endless replays/ retakes of matches, exams, legal decisions and elections.

Which would you choose for the New Year?


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Wolfe tone
Wolfe tone
Jan 2, 2019 4:12 PM

The so called ‘brexit mess’ is charade. The Brit govt could’ve easily have left the EU under favourable conditions but for the fact the Brit govt had no intention to leave. Thus it was inevitable that the Brit govt would deliberately run into obstacles etc etc so as to convince the public to change their minds. It was so much of a charade that the EU leaders appeared to be play hardball and basé on whether the Brits leave or stay; nothing could be further from the truth. They desperately need the Brits to stay if their EU project is to survive.

Jan 14, 2019 5:09 AM
Reply to  Wolfe tone

This is exactly right. A Brexit deal could literally have been agreed in one phone call or one meeting. There were two issues. Trade and the treatment of foreign nationals. Trade – we will continue to trade freely with the Continent (as we have for thousands of years.) No tariffs or quotas will be imposed by us until such time as you impose tariffs and quotas on our exports, at which point we will reciprocate in exactly the same fashion against your goods. Foreigners – their rights and interests will be fully respected – unless Brussels starts to harass British nationals abroad. That’s it – everything else is detail. As for paying Brussels £50 million a day – they can go f**k themselves. That’s it, a 2 point plan for Brexit sorted out in a 10 minute phone call. Might be a bit bored for the rest of the day… Read more »

Jan 2, 2019 1:36 PM

Whilst I hated the EU monopoly I eventually voted to remain after looking into how we would survive trade wise given that we have little left after Thatcherism, of trade and industry. It’s what I believed at the time. The fact that those promoting a second referendum are the worst of the bunch within Tory circles, plus Toxic Tony Blair augmenting their stance, strongly suggests we should all vote to leave. Democracy should not be a best of three game, like darts, tennis etc. What are the politicians going to do, if the result is not what they want? Try for a third referendum? I disagree with any notion of a sr, but if I am placed in that position, I will probably vote to leave, so those advocating for it, might want to think twice, they may not get what they wished for and could end up with egg… Read more »

Ross Hendry
Ross Hendry
Jan 2, 2019 8:49 AM

Definitely no. Normally sore losers don’t get to organise a rerun of a referendum, no matter what flimsy excuse is manufactured.

By the way, it’s often said:

an early argument here was the size of the Brexit win (under 4%) which some commentators considered too slim a basis for major change

This is a classic case of the abuse of statistics. While the Leave share of the vote was 4% greater than for Remain it attracted an impressive 8% more votes (17.41 v. 16.14 million), which is no doubt why the latter more meaningful figure is rarely mentioned by Remainers.

Jan 1, 2019 11:03 PM

No. Full stop. I am a believer that 60% should be the threshold for major changes (e.g.Scottish independence) but Remainers like Cameron thought us all too stupid to vote to leave and set the rules. We voted out and out we should go. No re-run and no £40 billion to EU – that wasn’t on the ballot paper either.

Jan 2, 2019 11:04 AM
Reply to  Philpot

NO! Means No! OUT means Out! Just get it done. Rip of the plaster and be done with it. Cameron counted on the Buffoon and the man with the nasty teeth putting people OFF voting to leave. Fortunately the ‘majority’ of people who are not dullards saw through this, and were able to make decisions based on their own experiences and information provided. We, the people are now being bamboozled into another vote, which will cost what exactly? Just to ensure all the fat cats with their paws in the cream get their perks. ALL those MP’s voting AGAINST their constituency’s wishes should be sacked on the spot, they are not fit for purpose. They forget their places…. They are OUR servants and not there to serve their own ends. The Sport, Education, Politics and Law examples are spot on, and must be clear as day even for the stupidest… Read more »

Jan 14, 2019 5:17 AM
Reply to  Philpot

Why not have a 60% threshold for MPs, governments and everybody else as well?
As for the Jocks, the sooner they clear off the better.