Brexit: What it truly means to 'Let the People Decide.'

Brighton and Hove City Council has become the first to support a Green proposal for a public say on the terms of any Brexit deal (a so-called ‘Ratification referendum’).
Green Councillor Leo Littman questions whether a ‘hard Brexit’ really is ‘the will of the people.’ 

Who said: “In a 52-48 Referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way,”?

The answer – Nigel Farage.

Farage has now said “maybe – just maybe – I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership.”

It’s ironic that just as the ex-UKIP Leader concedes that the British people may deserve to be consulted on their future, the Leader of the official opposition who campaigned (albeit half-heartedly) for the UK to remain in the EU, has set his face squarely against both such a Ratification Referendum and against an amendment supported by the other Opposition Party leaders (e.g the Greens’ own Caroline Lucas MP) to ensure Parliament would have to be consulted before the UK could leave the Single Market or Customs Union.

What this means in effect is that the core of the Labour leadership is refusing to oppose the will of the Tory Brexiteers.

Meanwhile, some of his Labour Party colleagues are highlighting the dangers of Brexit. The Mayor of London, on discovering that the Tory Government has no idea how damaging Brexit would be, commissioned a report showing the billions of pounds that it would cost the British economy.

This report echoes that of Green Party MEP for London, Jean Lambert, which shows the amount London would lose through Brexit.

It’s not only in Parliament or in London that Labour are split on their approach to Brexit. Just before Christmas, Brighton and Hove’s Green Group of Councillors secured a hugely significant victory for democracy, pushing our Council to become the first in the country to formally request a Ratification Referendum. (You can read the terms of what was agreed below).

Following proposals from the Green Party, Brighton and Hove City Council has become one of the first in the country to back ratification referendum calls

Unsurprisingly, as with all things Brexit, the vote itself was met with confusion and division. Despite an overwhelming majority of Brighton and Hove’s electorate voting to ‘remain’ in the European Union back in June 2016, their local Labour and Conservative representatives still struggle to take on the responsibility of presenting any serious scrutiny or opposition to the Conservative Government’s Brexit farce. Our proposals, called ‘Brighton and Hove and Brexit’ passed 26-25. All the Greens and the Independent voted for; all the Tories voted against; Labour voted 16-5 in favour.

Somewhat bafflingly, one of the Labour Group in the vote ‘leave’ camp called the idea of a referendum on the terms of any Brexit deal negotiated by the Conservative Government ‘anti-democratic.’ He argued during the meeting that those opting to Remain were ‘ruled by fear.’ As I said at the time:

Whilst I agree that we shouldn’t we ruled by fear, fear can also be an intelligent response. That’s why most people don’t run into burning buildings. More and more, as time goes by, we come up against the fact that the vote of 37% of the eligible electorate at last summer’s EU ballot is being taken as Holy Writ by the Conservative Party and, to a very slightly lesser extent, the Labour Party.

The statistics on how damaging our current perilous position is are becoming ever firmer, and, somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall there may exist ‘Impact Assessment Studies’ which show how much worse it would get were we ever to be foolhardy enough to press the ejector-seat button and fire ourselves out of Europe, without so much as a parachute. Or maybe they don’t exist. Or maybe, they do and David Davis is just calling them something different this week. Perhaps, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking Glass: ‘When he uses a word, it means just what he chooses it to mean — neither more nor less’. Who knows? What is certain is that either the Government knows how bad Brexit would be and won’t tell us, or they haven’t even bothered to find out just how much damage it would do. Either way, it makes the work of those of us struggling to cope in the world of Local Government, along with everyone else in the country, increasingly difficult.

Brighton and Hove for Europe outside town hall
Residents form a circle around Hove Town Hall to highlight ‘Brighton and Hove For Europe.’

Clearly, on this issue, neither of the current major political Parties in this country can be trusted with deciding what is in the Nation’s best interests. So, once whichever of them is in charge by March 2019 has cobbled together whatever sort of ‘deal or no deal’ they can; the decision on whether to press that button must lie with the British People.

A ratification referendum is essential once the present lack of clarity and downright obfuscation is over and we know the full impact Brexit would have on Brighton and Hove and the country as a whole.

Even if we, as a Nation, are torn out of the EU; we as a city have made it abundantly clear that we wish to remain part of the European project. We need clarity of our position within the sorority of European cities (known as the Eurocities network) so, we are also asking that our Chief Executive makes this clear to our sister cities in mainland Europe.

Regardless of whether you think Brexit would be good, bad, or indifferent, we all need to recognise that it should only happen if the form it takes reflects the will of the British People.

Democracy doesn’t stop with a vote, it starts with one. Regardless of party position we should be voting to allow the people of this city and this country to determine their own future. Let’s give back control. Let’s let the people decide.

Leo Littman is a Green Party Councillor for Preston Park ward in Brighton and Hove


Brighton and Hove City Council adopted the following proposals (Notice of Motion) put forward by the Green Group of Councillors::

This Council notes the mounting evidence of damage that ‘Brexit’ would cause to the national economy and trans-European relationships, and the mismanagement of Brexit by the Government.

Council also notes with concern the potential impact of Brexit both on our local economy and on established mutually beneficial partnerships and links with European cities such the Eurocities network.

The Council requests:

  • That the Chief Executive write to the President of the Eurocities Network, Mayor of Ghent Daniel Termont, expressing our desire to continue working with sister cities at this time of uncertainty for the UK, and exploring the status of Brighton and Hove’s membership of Eurocities following any ‘Brexit’;
  • That the Chief Executive writes to Sajid David, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, expressing this Council’s and this city’s strong desire for a referendum on the final terms of a Brexit deal, including the option to maintain full EU membership;
  • That the Chief Executive writes to Hilary Benn MP, chair of the Brexit Select Committee, requesting that he share the full Brexit Impact Assessment Studies with particular relevance to the economy of our city.

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