Brexit has sent shockwaves throughout British society. Masses of people took to the streets, recently, in protest of Brexit and to demand one thing: a second referendum. With all the support Remain voters have been gaining, there are still those who believe that the referendum of 2016 should be upheld. Democratic legitimacy favors that Parliament goes through with Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U. Another referendum in favour of a remain outcome would be equally legitimate; however, the British constitution needs to be amended for that to happen, and it should.
The question of a second referendum has been brought about in parliament, following immense public pressure. One prominent Member of Parliament chose to address the constitutionality of a second referendum once. The Right Honourable MP stated that the constitution allows a second referendum to take place only if it was included as a possibility in the first referendum. Since there was no mention of a second referendum in 2016, when the nation voted, a second referendum would be unconstitutional. Just because a second referendum is unconstitutional; however, does not mean it is impossible.
Constitutions have been amended throughout history. I’m the 1930s and 1940s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) won an unprecedented four U.S. presidential elections. This was welcomed in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, but it also broke tradition. No President from George Washington until FDR held office for more than two terms. More importantly for the sake of this article, no President has done so since because the constitution was amended.
Constitutional amendments can make a state fairer, its citizens freer and bring about greater democratic institutions. In the case of the United Kingdom and Brexit, an amendment to constitutional rulings on referendums will make it possible to stage another referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU. All elections have term limits, and few decisions should ever be set in stone. If the public vote in elections on a cyclical basis, how can only one vote be held on whether Britain should remain or leave the EU? The answer is that one vote is not enough and that it is far more democratic to stage another referendum.
Switzerland had six referendums on the question of maternity leave alone; begging the question why can’t Britain have two on Britain and the EU? Some, like Prime Minister Theresa May, have argued that the first referendum should be honoured. That is an honourable statement, and one that points to the value of democratic legitimacy. It is still legitimate to follow through with the outcome of a second referendum though. If livelihoods, liberties and futures are at stake as a result of constitutional rulings, then the constitution must make way for fairer, more democratic policies and political frameworks.
Another point of contention against repeat referendums is the question of outcome acceptance. If Britain were to hold another referendum and the outcome is leave again, will the result be honoured then? Why should a remain decision be upheld and not a leave one? A leave vote in this case should not be accepted because a) many people have voiced their opposition to it and taken to the streets to do so and b) the anti-immigration stance of leave voters is anti-liberal and should be discredited on that basis. Furthermore, if a vote takes place and there is little opposition to it, then that vote should be considered more seriously by Parliament.
All in all, a second referendum is possible and should be pursued. It would require amending the British constitution, however. Constitutional amendments have occurred in many countries in the past, most notably when the United States government amended its constitution to allow its Presidents only two terms in office. Allowing for a second referendum, in this case, would make for a more democratic outcome as it will allow the people another chance to determine their future. With all the economic, social and political instability the 2016 referendum caused, it is only fair if the British people are allowed to influence decisions that affect their livelihoods.
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