Not another one? Why not use the numerical evidence to guide us?

I agree with Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher, referenda are “a device of dictators and demagogues”. The whole point of representative democracy is that we elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf. If we do not like their decisions, we can elect new representatives. Adding referenda into this mix creates conflicting mandates leading to the chaos we have now. Like everyone else, I have to accept the reality that the Conservatives made the mistake of offering a referendum and were elected. However, once you have made this mistake once, there is no reason why should not hold another referendum and so on, ad infinitum. But how soon you should reschedule another referendum is an important question. The democratically accepted answer depends on the result. Why does the result matter? Because of electoral churn. In the UK, there are over 750,000 new voters every year, and it is not democratic to deny them a say, especially if their views may have a significant impact on the result. So if the result of a referendum differs by less than 750,000 then you need to rehold the vote every year. If the result differs by less than 1.5 million, you need to rehold within two years, and so on.

On this basis, we should have rerun the EU referendum (leave majority 1.3 million) within two years. [1] If you do want to hold a ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum then you need to demand at least a two-third majority or more depending on how long you think a lifetime is. Unless, you are prepared to rehold the vote every few months, a simple binary choice majority referendum is a terrible idea.

[1] Peter Kellner estimates that Jan. 19, 2019 is cross-over day when remain attains a majority, assuming no-one changes their mind, and new voters follow the 2016 voting patterns.


  1. Sean Danaher -

    Its a good argument. One could add to this that the people most likely to be impacted by the referendum result, given that it has been interpreted as ending FoM are the younger generation. Loss of Erasmus is also a big blow.

  2. Graham -

    I agree in principle that representatives should make the decisions. However, our current political set-up is so dysfunctional – first-past-the-post, an unelected 2nd chamber stuffed with Party cronies, Bishops and assorted others, the influence of lobbyists, business and newspapers, and the fact that in practice most MP’s do not represent their constituents views but vote in accordance with Party instructions (recent minor rebellions and a possible larger one notwithstanding) and even less do they consider in a thoughtful manner what is best for their country and the people as a whole. This is especially obvious in the case of the 13 Tory MP’s from Scotland, where every single constituency voted to Remain yet they have sat on their hands as the current PM and her ministers have treated the Scottish Parliament, and its people with utter contempt. In the current situation I’m not sure which is the lesser evil.

    1. Peter May -

      And it is not just Scotland this government treats with utter contempt. It is just Scotland is fotunate to have a measure of devolution that is suficient to enable it to at least comment appropriately. The English have nothing except emasculated and bankrupted councils.

    2. Charles Adams -

      I also agree that our current ‘representative’ democracy needs a lot of remedial work. Especially, as you suggest, the 2nd chamber which currently is not ‘representative’ at all.

  3. Peter May -

    This is an excellent argument – and so obvious that I’m just ashamed I never thought of it!
    More to the point I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere – and it should be.

  4. PJ Kearns -

    A reason for a 2nd referendum might be that nobody knew what they were voting on in the first place, what does Brexit really mean and what it would take to leave the EU whilst meeting all legal and constitutional obligations. An uneducated vote can hardly be considered democratic. Because of all this slowly coming to light, it seems the majority has already shifted in favour of remaining.

    1. Caro -

      I agree largely with your position. A referendum that is representative needs the following co nditions. A WELL informés Electorate of whom Over 70% actually cast a vote, of whom a 2/3 Majority carry the day.
      Anything less is a mere #consultation#, without any power to bind the House of Commons.

  5. Geoff -

    Best argument I’ve seen for another vote. But isn’t it also true there are roughly 500,000 deaths each year in the UK many of whom will have voted leave in 2016. From memory it was the older age group who figured highly in the leave camp vote.

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