Let’s assume … that Britain decides to hold a second referendum. This is nowhere close to being an end to the matter. In fact there is both an underlying problem – and a whole heap of practical ones. The underlying problem is that Britain has never satisfactorily sorted out whether or how referendums can coexist with our system of representative democracy. The last two years have been an object lesson in the seriousness of this. Last month an independent commission on referendums, commissioned by University College London’s constitution unit, argued that it must be sorted out. But it won’t be. There just isn’t time. The second referendum would trigger a whole set of problems of its own, whatever the result.
Now consider some practical problems. The first of these is time. Brexit is scheduled to take place on 29 March next year. Almost certainly, all 27 remaining EU states would have to agree to extend the article 50 process beyond then. That can’t happen overnight. Parliament would also need time. Referendums need legislation. Legislation can be amended. The bill would certainly not be nodded through. The Electoral Commission and the local authorities that must run the poll need time to draw up rules – and these need to work far better than in 2016. Yet the bill for the 2016 referendum was introduced 13 months before polling day. This vote would have to be in spring 2019. We’re looking at – perhaps – three months max. [Continue reading…]