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Criticism of UCL Constitution Unit paper about choices for new brexit referendum

August 2018

A trio of experts from the Constitution Unit, University College London, recently published "Seven questions" about a possible new "brexit" referendum (1). In the following comment INIREF will address one of these questions concerning: Which choices about UK and EU shall appear on the referendum ballot paper?

INIREF disputes:

Which choices on the ballot?

Constitution Unit writes,
"What might the options be? A key point emphasised by the Independent Commission on Referendums, which reported last month, was the importance of having clear, well-developed options in referendums."

This we can endorse.

However, under question 4 you write,
"In the case of a second Brexit referendum three options look most likely as candidates to be put to the voters: the deal the government has negotiated; leaving the EU without a deal; or remaining in the EU." (1)

We beg to disagree.

The idea of a three choice "preferendum" has been floated by several authors such as ex-minister Greening and anti-brexit campaigner G. Miller. A better designed proposal, with, as you require "clear, well-developed options (for) referendums" was presented months ago as a parliamentary bill by Geraint Davies MP.

Our proposal below (Iniref), in particular, demands "well-developed" and guaranteed options.

It is neither wise nor necessary to propose that these three options should together be on the ballot paper.  A two-way choice, clearer and more reliable, can be achieved.

Iniref proposal for another referendum about UK and EU relations, "brexit".

As of now (August 2018) we should proceed to plan (as elector-citizens, electoral commission, MPs, government) with the following basic considerations:

Before attempting to make a final decision by referendum we should let the government complete its task of negotiating a withdrawal agreement with the EU. The job will be done only after the EU including all required parts (council, commission, 27 countries) has accepted this deal. The UK government must then publish its final proposal for withdrawal and put this before Parliament for a meaningful decision and then (in a referendum ordered by Parliament) put the matter before the electorate for final approval or rejection.

If no "deal" with the EU can be reached then the choices on the referendum ballot paper would be:

Leave the EU with no agreement.

Remain in the EU.

If a withdrawal arrangement has been reached then the choices on the referendum ballot paper would be:

Leave the EU according to the government's final proposal.

Remain in the EU.

Our suggested method (above) offers in both cases (agreement with EU or not) two worked out and (if chosen) guaranteed alternatives.

Background to our recommendation may be found at

1. The Constitution Unit Blog: Is a second referendum on Brexit possible? Seven questions that need to be answered