Since the 2016 referendum Theresa May has relentlessly claimed she is ‘respecting the will of the British people’ in order to justify her entire agenda. This week, amid continued talks between the Government and Labour, Jeremy Corbyn mirrored these claims. But should the result of a three-year-old referendum still count?
The 2016 EU referendum was fiercely fought and extremely close. ‘Leave’ won on 2%; this was the closest referendum result of the century. Three years on, the full picture of the illegitimacy of the referendum is now recognised. The Vote Leave campaign fronted by senior Conservatives including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, overspent by £7 million; this is a huge breach of electoral spending law. If a campaign overspends and wins then there should be significant grounds for discreditation of the result. Further, £2.7 million was paid to a Canadian data intelligence firm named Aggregate IQ. This firm specialises in use of data analytics in order to influence individuals’ voting intentions. This raises serious moral questions about the legitimacy of this result.
Further, claims that were made by both leave and remain campaigns lacked empirical groundings. The independent, non-partisan think tank, Open Europe, discredited both campaigns due to the flawed analysis and lack of clarity they provided. Neither side presented a credible or viable picture of events; claims that were made were just a stab in the dark. Three years later, it is now clear that the UK can only leave the EU on the terms of the shoddy deal negotiated by the Prime Minister or leave the EU without a deal. Neither option was offered in 2016 and as a result, neither represents the ‘will of the people’. As a result, the referendum result cannot be taken to indicate that people that voted to leave support any of the options available.
It must also be recognised that there have been huge demographic shifts since the referendum and the slim majority that supported leaving the EU no longer exists. Recent research by polling expert Peter Kellner, highlighted that based on demographic changes alone, a majority of people support remaining in the EU. Based on his research, I calculate that there are now over 203,400 additional young people who have turned 18 and who would turn out and vote remain. When combined with the number of leave voters that have changed their mind or passed away, as well as the 28% of those that did not vote but would now vote remain, it is clear that the ‘will of the people’ has changed. These drastic changes mean that the 2016 referendum result can no longer be branded as the ‘will of the people’.
1053 days after the referendum, we can no longer pigeonhole the result of the referendum as ‘the will of the British people’ or assume a mandate for the options available. The only way the will of the people can be determined is through a second referendum on Brexit. The only way forward is through a People’s Vote.