John Downing: ‘There are good grounds for a second vote – just ask the Irish’
Hopes were raised of a second Brexit referendum by dint of Theresa May ruling it out. That’s not entirely true – just yet – but it may soon be a reality as the prospect of a second vote moves slowly up the “likelihood ladder”.
Given the recent history on this side of the water, it is a fair bet that if the Irish nation took such a momentous anti-EU decision as its neighbours did in June 2016, it would already have been reversed in another referendum.
So, are we a sheeplike race always open to persuasion by a political elite who know best what is good for us? Or are there other factors at play?
Well, first let’s do a flick of recent EU votes in Ireland. In June 2001, Irish voters rejected the EU Treaty of Nice by 54pc to 46pc, with just one-in-three voters turning out. This was reversed in a second vote in October 2002 with 67pc in favour and 33pc against, and turnout significantly increased to 49pc.
Then, in June 2008, Irish voters did it again with the EU Lisbon Treaty, with 53pc against and 46pc in favour, and with a 53pc turnout. The reversal came in October 2009, this time 67pc said Yes, and 33pc voted No, on an almost six-out-of-10 turnout.
Unsurprisingly, those who successfully campaigned in each “mark one referendum” cried foul. The pub wags enjoyed jokes about “best of three” and calls of “we’ll keep ye votin’ til ye get it right”. And there is some substance there – even in jest.
But there are other factors to be taken into account as Ireland was given a political guarantee in the case of the Nice Treaty, and a second guarantee on Lisbon which was given a certain legal force.
In the case of Nice, Irish military neutrality was identified as a voter concern, and a declaration was given by EU leaders meeting in Seville in June 2002 acknowledging Ireland’s position.
In the case of Lisbon a number of issues, including effects upon family life, taxation, and again security and defence, were acknowledged. This time a legal guarantee, pledging Lisbon would not change the status quo on these issues, was given in 2009. A pledge to give this legal force was fulfilled in 2013 when it was tacked on as a protocol to the treaty that admitted Croatia to EU membership.
So, despite popular mirth, the votes were not just rerun without addressing voter concerns. At each second vote the turnout was higher, and the margins changed considerably.
It is also worth noting that Irish voters have voted nine times on EU issues since 1972 and are more used to referendums generally. There has been no deep-seated popular resentment at the revotes and surveys show Irish EU approval remains high.
Few on the other side of the Irish Sea will note this Irish experience. Unsurprisingly, the rolling Brexit calamity continues with a people overwhelmed by their own problems.
A second Brexit vote may be heading our way – with an uncertain outcome.