The British government must seek a mandate to negotiate brexit

As the shock of the brexit result continues to reverberate (and will for quite some time) there has been quite a bit of chat, in the mainstream and online media, and among friends, about how this decision could potentially be reversed.

At the outset it should be clear that there can be no political prospect of the referendum being re-run. The campaign was long, there was no shortage of reading material or debating time, and there can be no attempt to second guess the result by suggesting that people were not properly informed or did not properly understand what they were doing.

On the other hand, it goes without saying that we have entered a period of significant uncertainty. The British political system is now subject to a power vacuum and it is difficult to see how, at this stage, the government can even function. The Prime Minister and his government are now lame ducks.

Additionally, with the poll out of the way, there are all kinds of mixed messages coming from the Leave camp. The first thing that I’ve immediately noticed is how, after enthusiastically urging everyone to seize the moment to vote Leave, those who made that case have gone very quiet now that they have won. Aside from victory statements, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dan Hannan have had almost nothing to say. Why aren’t they demanding that David Cameron leave immediately and that they take over ? Why, having demanded that we Leave as quickly as possible, are they now asking for things to slow down, for Article 30 not to be invoked just yet, prolonging the UK’s membership of an institution that they say damages its interests ?

This sits alongside the behaviour of a number of Tory MPs on polling day, when they signed a letter asking David Cameron to remain in charge irrespective of the result. This is a strange position for people who are confident in the correctness of their case to take. Why would you entrust the man on the opposite side of the argument to lead the negotiations implementing the outcome you sought ? Unless, of course, like De Valera, you knew that the outcome of the negotiations would necessarily fall short of what you told the public was possible; and that you were unwilling to face the prospect of returning home and having to sell a deal that you knew would be an enormous compromise of your principles.

Alongside the reticence among Leave to take the lead having won the referendum is a marked reticence to uphold the sales pitch they made which will have encouraged Leave voters in their decision. A clear proposal was made to divert the £350m savings from EU membership into the NHS – yet Nigel Farage chose to wait until after the poll was complete to rubbish it. Other promises were various – discard all Brussels rules and regulations (which rules out a Norway style settlement) yet retain an open border with the Ireland (which requires a Norway style settlement and agreement on free movement). There is no clear picture, or consensus, along which path the negotiations should take.

Into this mix we add the fact that both the British Government and the House of Commons are unambiguously out of touch with the public. The Government was overwhelmingly dominated by the Remain camp. Out of 650 seats, perhaps 200 MPs, at best, were declared brexit voters. In this light, the referendum result can be seen as a vote of no confidence in the Government and the Commons.

This means that the British government has no mandate, and must seek a renewed one. We now need an election to grant voters the opportunity to appoint the negotiators who will bargain over the future of the UK outside of the EU. In this context, it is the responsibility of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to fight an election campaign on the basis of saving the integrity of the United Kingdom, refusing to invoke Article 50, and seeking a renewed understanding of our place at the heart of Europe.

Software engineer living and working in greater Belfast. Pragmatic social democrat with the odd leaning towards capitalism. Political interests include economic policy, social and political reform.

Alliance Party member, but writing in a strictly personal capacity.

  • Gopher

    It was a referendum on the membership of the EU nothing more nothing less. The fact there is no exit plan is of no consequence. Cameron has given HMG until October to come up with one. We are out for better or for worse and the best deal can only be achieved by the government seeing out its term in office. Instability now will only cost jobs and treasure.

  • Reader

    Brendan, I don’t think there should be an election – the referendum was promised in the manifesto and the consequences can be played out under the government that was elected with that manifesto.
    I think Cameron should probably have handled the negotiations, but he won’t, so he should go quickly – certainly before October.
    Corbyn, I suppose, should probably go. He gave no sort of leadership at all. However, he should go slowly, because Labour has to get itself sorted out before picking a new leader. And Labour needs a lot of sorting out.

  • Jag

    To see the subtle sour grapes of the #Remain losers. “we want another referendum”, “the Leave side won on false pretences”, “we won’t vote for activating art 50”, “we want a general election [to return MPs who are pro-Europe]”.

    Get over it, you lost. The people spoke.

  • Angry Mob

    They already have a mandate as the conservative promised in their manifesto a referendum on the EU if they won the general election and they did.

  • Dan

    Máirtín Ó Muilleoir demanding that the vote of the majority in Northern Ireland be respected.
    He’s a laugh that one, isn’t he?

  • Utter nonsense.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Brendan it sounds like you are trying to find a way not to accept a democratic decision by the people of the UK. Surely not?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    It really is a different world when the chuckies go on about the vote of the majority of NI !!

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes, which is nothing to do with the point made in my article.

    How can a government which is pro-remain implement the pro-brexit decision of the public ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Brendan, I don’t think there should be an election – the referendum was promised in the manifesto and the consequences can be played out under the government that was elected with that manifesto.

    No, I do not see it that way. The government anticipated a Remain result and campaigned for one. It looks, at this stage, like Leave anticipated a Remain result as well – up to and beyond the closure of the polls.

    As I tried to point out in my article, there is no consensus about what brexit should look like. From a Leave point of view, how can a bunch of Remain MPs be trusted to deliver fully on what they believe people voted for ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Why would a country which voted 52% to leave Europe return a majority of MPs which are pro-Europe ?

  • Brendan Heading

    No, I’m saying that the House of Commons no longer reflects the wishes of the public and should be dissolved. If you think I’m incorrect, I’d like to understand how.

  • OneNI

    Truth is Sturgeon and O’Muilleoir are sticking out as much chaff as possible to distract from the implosion of their own positions.
    Sturgeon knows fine rightly that Scot Parl cant block Brexit but needs to push the issue of a Referendum off the agenda – as she knows she would loss any such vote.
    If you listen to her weasel words she says she would try to vote down a Legislative Consent Motion – she never actually maintained that this would block Brexit.
    SF are in a worse position. Their primary goal was to become the main Opposition party in Dublin and they failed and face the real risk of being eclipsed totally by FF next time around leaving them floundering as a minor party in the Dail.
    They banked on a weak Labour Govt coming to power last year but are faced with a Con Party who, is the person of Villiers, firmly (and more politely than Millar) slaps down SF nonsense at every turn. Martin attacks the SoS in one breath and then talks about ‘negotiating’ with London on the EU, on Corporation Tax, public expenditure. In reality he has sod all to negotiate with!
    They (like most people) didn’t see Brexit coming and while they will huff and puff there is nothing they can do. Frankly the attempts to pretend that the NI vote in support of remain gives a ‘mandate’ for a Border Poll is risible – and has already been dropped (after a hard slap from Teresa) the talk of NI (or Scotland) staying in EU while Eng and Wales leaves is equally nonsense. Sinn Fein run the risk of drawing more and more attention to their own impotence and the fact that they are locked in to the UK.
    When the dust settles what are SF going to do – walk out of Stormont? aye right

  • OneNI

    Mike Nesbitt taking a very strange ‘our selves alone’ line on Sunday Politics – hard to see all his elected representatives staying on board

  • Brendan Heading

    Thanks for that constructive response as ever Pete.

  • Roger

    The impending reshuffle will remove the pro-remain aspect. No need for an election.

  • Roger

    There hasn’t been enough time for politicians to present what a Brexit would look like to the electorate. Negotiations haven’t started. The politicians don’t know what can be offered. They can’t ask the electorate to pick options when they don’t yet know what they are. Perhaps in a year’s time, your logic might make better sense. By then, it’s possible though I would not say probable, that they’ll have a better idea.

    On a separate point article 50 permits the EU and the outgoing member to agree to extend the 2 year period. I would not be surprised if that aspect gets triggered down the line, though I appreciate most EU leaders are speaking of a quick divorce at the moment. Grappling with the issues may slow the tempo down.

  • Brendan Heading

    Are you sure about this ? The favourite to win the Conservative leadership is Theresa May. She was pro-remain ?

    and what about the two thirds of the Commons who are pro-remain ? Will they pass any legislation relating to brexit ?

  • Roger

    Agree with you on SF. Their talk of a border poll is indeed risible, The SoS may have slapped it down, but no harder than the Taoiseach did too. I don’t agree with you about SNP. I don’t think Sturgeon has a crystal ball that works. I don’t think the outcome of a second vote in Scotland can be predicted.

  • NotNowJohnny

    He seemed to me to be pressing for the best deal for Northern Ireland and in particular mentioned businesses and farmers. Can’t see too many problems with that line. He also spoke of the need to recognise that NI had voted to remain and of the need to listen to the views of young people and nationalists in particular in relation to the forthcoming negotiations. Again sensible stuff.

  • Roger

    It’s irrelevant whether she is or is not pro-remain. That’s history now. The UK is leaving. It’s about who will negotiate the best position for the UK. If she is chosen, her mandate will be to do that. A pro-remainer might be more inclined to a Norwegian type arrangement, a bad deal but possibly the best the UK could get.

  • jm

    I just don’t believe the result was based on a choice of whether to be in or out of the eu. It was based on the consequences of the 2008 crash and the austerity measures that screwed over so many ordinary people and they then swallowed the lie that the economic shitstorm they were having to live through would disappear if net immigration was lowered. Now those people will be living through another recession where once more they come off worse.

  • Brendan Heading

    It’s irrelevant whether she is or is not pro-remain.

    Of course it’s relevant. How can those who support Leave trust a declared Europhile to deliver the deal that they want ?

    If she is chosen, her mandate will be to do that.

    How will a Conservative party which has a slight majority of pro-Remain MPs grant a mandate to negotiate an exit from the UK ?

    You are oversimplifying the very difficult situation that is being faced here.

  • Brendan Heading


    There hasn’t been enough time for politicians to present what a Brexit would look like to the electorate

    I don’t know if you have been following politics for the past 20 or more years, but people have been proposing leaving the UK ever since I was first able to vote in 1997 when James Goldsmith and the Referendum Party sought a mandate for a referendum to leave the EU. UKIP has grown in strength steadily for the past ten years and there has been a constant undercurrent in politics for the whole time about leaving the EU. And you’re telling me that nobody has actually figured out what they plan to do when they achieve it ?

    Are Leave supporters really like a dog chasing cars that has no idea what to do when it finally catches up with one ?

  • Brendan

    There is nothing in your original assertions to be “constructive” with.

  • Brendan Heading

    There is no excuse for playing the man, Pete. Although apparently that rule doesn’t apply to you.

  • Redstar

    I take it the Brexit curmudgeons understand that if they opt to continue trade with the EU under a Norwegian style arrangement you STILL must pay in. Bit like using a club as a non member- you get to use the facilities but you must still pay and have no vote

  • Tony Furnell

    It’s entirely possible!

  • Angry Mob

    Pay less though and they still have a formal say.

  • chrisjones2

    Both are tapped … in Scotland by their ultra loon Nats and in Stormont by what Gerry says

  • chrisjones2

    Its not pro remain any more. The people have spoken – the bastards

  • chrisjones2

    Shes a democrat ….if she wants the job shes there to implement the will of the people and get the smoothest best exit. Its that simple. If she doesn’t want that she should not take the job and should go

  • chrisjones2

    Strangely David Milliband flew into the UK this morning. I am sure he is calling Jezza offering his full support and perhaps wondering if he could help in Batley and Spen

  • Keith

    I don’t see the point in dissolution. I don’t think any new parliament would have a different make-up. It’s the duty of parliament to enact the will of the people, having gone out and asked for it.

  • Redstar
  • jporter

    It’s an interesting observation, but the message sent to the political classes by the Brexit vote is still being missed and a refusal to acknowledge it and a refusal to implement Brexit would be an unprecedented gift to the far right of the UK, and I don’t mean UKIP.

  • Jollyraj

    It seems obvious to me that the only thing to do now is negotiate with Europe for 4-5 months, hammer out a deal in it’s specifics- and then present it to the public. If a vote on it is justified, let’s have a referendum on the terms. So we all know what we are voting for. If that referendum passes, we formally opt out. The idea that we now are compelled to jump out no matter how bad the deal Europe offers is rather a stupid notion.

    No good blaming the common sense option of voting on something concrete. It is all on the Leavers that nobody had any real plan on what to do if they won

  • jporter

    Do you mean before or after article 50 is triggered? The EU will simply refuse negotiations before and once article 50 is triggered, I assume there is no option to stop it.
    We have no leverage. If triggering article 50 is delayed, the uncertainty hurts the economy and the fudge further angers the leave voters – as I said you risk a gift to the far right or worse, protests and violence.
    I’m not sure that people are really getting the message yet. There seems to be a stalemate narrative forming that the issue can be kicked down the road a bit, but what this really equates to is ‘I’m scared, I didn’t think Brexit would happen, can’t we ignore the plebs and hope they forget about it?’
    Many voted leave because they feel they’ve nothing to lose – that makes for a dangerous situation.
    I can understand the wish to find a way out of this situation, but as it stands, I fear pain is inevitable now either way.

  • OneNI

    Thanks for that insight to the thoughts and beliefs of 34m people

  • Abucs

    Brendan if you really believed what you said then you should be agitating for all of the remain MP’s from both sides of the political divide to resign their seats. It is pretty obvious that you are calling for a rerun of the referendum in the guise of a general election.

    Otherwise you should be agitating in the general election that a majority of both Conservative and Labour candidates be declared Brexit people. If the Conservatives and Labour again run the same ‘out of touch’ Remain candidates then there is little choice but for them to be re-elected.

    Your general election would not create any mandate for staying in Europe, It would simply be a rerun of what we have now. Giving us out of touch politicians with regards to Brexit.

    The Conservative Party did not win the Brexit vote, the British people did.

    The Conservative Party are in power and so they get to negotiate the withdrawal from the EU. If Labour were in power then it would be up to them to negotiate the withdrawal.

  • Jollyraj

    “The EU will simply refuse negotiations before and once article 50 is triggered, I assume there is no option to stop it.”

    Honestly I don’t know. My feeling is that we are right now making that precedent. There may be an option to trigger article 50 ‘pending the people accepting the proffered terms’ – not ideal, granted, and yes we will suffer either way. It isn’t about denying the democratic mandate – I feel most people voted on the assumption that either vote would be backed up by a sensible and fair agreement. We now see that Europe, quite reasonably, will give us a raw deal – probably none of the benefits we were told we were voting on and some new and exciting drawbacks. The Leave campaigners bear responsibilty for that – seems in all the excitement nobody actually did any of the boring work of making an exit plan. People didn’t vote for the current chaos.

  • The Night Rider

    Glorious salt from marxist fantasists. More please.

  • John Collins

    The people have spoken. The ‘remainers’ had a long time to make their case and they obviously failed.

  • Brendan Heading

    Its that simple.

    You may want it to be that simple, but that does not make it simple.

    Do you seriously believe that UKIP supporters trust Theresa May to deliver what they want at the negotiating table ? It’s not a matter of her dedication to duty, it’s a matter of where her instincts lie.

  • Brendan Heading

    deriding your opponents as “marxists”, even when they clearly are not (the marxists mostly supported Leave). Where have I heard that before ??

  • Brendan Heading

    I don’t think any new parliament would have a different make-up.

    So what does it mean when parliament is 70% Remain in a country that is 52% Leave ?

  • Jollyraj

    Happy with the result, John?

  • Gopher

    The choice has now been made, why does not matter. Its time for the government to sort out the crisis.

  • Reader

    UKIP supporters don’t get to vote for Cameron’s replacement. Theresa May just needs to convince a split parliamentary party and a eurosceptic membership that she will do the honest thing. Once she has done that, I would have more faith in her abilities than in Boris.
    In any case, she would probably delegate the actual negotiations to Gove and Hannan, and ship Boris off to Moscow as ambassador.

  • Reader

    It means some of them have to consult their democratic instincts and do a bit of abstaining. Or pay the price in 2020.

  • chrisjones2

    What crisis?

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s no constitutional imperative on the UK government to do any such thing.

    Even if there was where does this put the Boundary Review?

    An election will fix nothing.

    If anything if you have to have an election, get people to elect a negotiating team rather than have MPs get involved. Let Europe be the Single issue on the ballot paper.

    A bit like the Northern Ireland Forum.

    Don’t rely on Westminster MPs or even MEPs

    They’ve proven themselves quite useless

  • Keith

    It means that parliament is out of step with the public, but parliament passed this decision to the public, and therefore parliament is bound to respect that. Again, what point would an election serve unless you think that the election would return a leave majority, which I think it very unlikely.

  • Mer Curial

    It’s a term used often by internet warriors to describe their opponents, and usually indicates a complete ignorance of the actual meaning of the term.
    You just need to disagree with them on something to have it bandied about 🙂

  • Mer Curial

    Sadly Irish catholics have no understanding of democracy.

  • Sherdy

    Surely the whip hand will be with the EU who are now expressing the desire to have the UK kicked out the EU door as quickly as possible to try to bring back some stability to the financial situation!
    What’s the chances of a vote of the other 27 members to reduce the exit timetable to one year, or even six months?

  • “playing the man”, Brendan?

    Calling out the nonsense of your original assertions is not playing the man.

    Playing the man would be if I called you an idiot because of the assertions you made in your original post…

  • Jenny Muir

    Given the way Labour is now tearing itself apart, they won’t win an election in the next year and may not even be in the running to be part of a coalition. I wouldn’t rule out a second referendum in a year or so:

  • Brendan Heading

    There are 70 comments here Pete, you are the only one asserting that there is nothing to comment on. These snide little digs only reflect on you.

    Do me a favour – if you can’t for whatever reason find something to actually say, please just ignore my contributions. I’m more than happy to extend the same favour to you.

  • Brendan Heading

    It means that parliament is out of step with the public, but parliament passed this decision to the public.

    Parliament agreed to hold a referendum. Parliament did not vote to leave the EU and, as such, the public’s view is now at odds with Parliament. This creates a constitutional crisis which must be resolved by electing a new Parliament.

    BTW the public have not made a “decision” about what the UK’s future relationship with Europe will look like.

    Again, what point would an election serve unless you think that the election would return a leave majority, which I think it very unlikely.

    Why would it be ? People can easily elect candidates who are committed to leaving the EU.

  • Brendan Heading

    Or pay the price in 2020.

    A lot of Tories represent constituencies which are pro-Remain. It’s hard to imagine they won’t already be in line to pay a price. That’s why they need to seek a mandate, and get this out of the way now rather than destabilising things later.

  • Brendan Heading

    Brendan if you really believed what you said then you should be agitating for all of the remain MP’s from both sides of the political divide to resign their seats

    Perhaps you did not read my article, as this is exactly what I am advocating. Two thirds of MPs are pro-Remain. I’m suggesting they vote themselves out of their seats and call an election.

    Your general election would not create any mandate for staying in Europe, It would simply be a rerun of what we have now.

    What exactly is it that we have now ? We don’t have a government, we don’t have an opposition, and based on Boris Johnson’s column in the Telegraph we don’t have any consensus on what leaving the EU will actually look like.

  • Brendan Heading

    My point was not specifically about UKIP, but to say that the absence of consensus over what form the UK’s departure from the EU should take is a source of ongoing stability.

    The next Prime Minister is going to get off a plane waving a bit of paper which has to command support among all of those who voted Leave if there is to be stability in the long run.

  • John Collins

    Overall no. As you mention yourself an outcome that can only lead to instability. However as a democrat I would have to accept the outcome. When the Divorce Ref was ran here it was carried by 50.1%, but quite rightly the result was accepted and no re run was sought.

  • Abucs

    Politicians as a collective need to change their politics around representing the will of the people or do as Cameron has done and look to step down and let others lead. The first is preferable. A general election is fought on a myriad of issues and loyalties not solely tied to Brexit. The whole idea of a referendum is to give the people a say in important issues and have the politicians represent and implement the results. If as a class of professionals, politicians are unable or unwilling to do this then the whole concept of democracy breaks down.

  • Reader

    Because there are loads of other issues on which people base their votes. For instance, I have noticed that the average party manifesto has several pages, not just one line.
    If we ever do face a single issue election for a 5 year parliament it will be a very, very, very bad day. So guess what I think of an attempt to promote a single issue election?

  • Jollyraj

    A divorce of two people is (relatively) simple. A divorce of tens of millions from hundreds of millions infinitely more complicated.

  • Keith

    Agreed, Parliament did not decide to leave, but rather asked the electorate to decide for them. Having done that, Parliament must now act on the will of the people. That may create a challenge for Parliament, but no more than that: to say this is a constitutional crisis is pretty hard to sustain.
    As for the makeup of any new Parliament, it’s really not credible to suggest that the public will return a majority of leave MPs. So, again, nothing solved by having an election. All it will achieve is further delay and uncertainty, and maybe even real crisis.

  • John Collins

    Agreed it will be very complicated and there must be patience on all sides when dealing with this matter, as Angela Merkell so pointedly advised, and I also feel the EU, with their arrogance, played a big part in influencing the nature of the outcome here. However it is not in GBs or the EUs interest not to follow the peoples wishes in the long run. If this situation is not handled properly it could lead to a chain abandonment of the EU by a string of countries, who are equally unhappy with the its performance..