In Brexit’s latest twist, Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn told his party he would back plans for a second public vote on Brexit should parliament reject his party’s attempt to prevent a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday.
Alexandra Cirone, professor in Cornell University’s department of government, says that while there are precedents to multiple referendums to resolve a single issue, Corbyn’s suggestion of a People’s Vote at the final hour may create more problems than it solves.
“There are precedents for having multiple referendums to resolve a single issue - in Ireland, in 2008 the first referendum on the EU Treaty of Lisbon was rejected, and then accepted the treaty in the following year after a second referendum. The ideals behind referendums are notable - fostering more public dialogue, bringing voters into the process - but referendums need sufficient time to be executed, to ensure that voters are fully informed. Unfortunately, time is something the UK doesn’t have at the moment.
“It’s also worth noting that referendums are often used for strategic reasons, by political parties - this is how Brexit came about in the first place. A second referendum is not a new idea, but why is Corbyn relying on it in the final hour? It’s unclear whether it has the support to pass across the parties in the Commons, so this could be symbolic and strategic - to appease his party and voters, who are divided by both Brexit, defecting MPs to the Independent Group, and claims of antisemitism. Further, it’s important to realize that while Labour is backing a second referendum, it is far from the likely outcome.
“Even if a People’s Vote is called for, the specific options on the ballot are incredibly important. Labour has signaled that Remain will be an option, effectively giving voters the chance to undo the outcome of the first referendum. But what will the Leave option look like? In addition to May’s deal, will there be other options proposed (Norway +) or will No Deal be included? The fact that there are multiple options, high uncertainty regarding some of those options, and choices that involve the consent of external actors (such as the EU), make a second referendum risky. A poorly executed second referendum could divide the country even further, and create more problems than it solves.”