Brexit cannot be implemented because Leave voters don’t actually know what they want. Eoin Bathurst argues that since their decision to vote out was based on claims that have turned out to be wrong, we should now reverse this course of national self-harm before it is too late.

First published in January 2019. | Updated in October 2019.

In 2016, the United Kingdom voted in the referendum on whether to stay in the EU or to leave it. We were given a binary choice on a subject where the options were far more complex. The outcome of that vote was 48% in favour of Remain against a 52% majority in favour of Leave.

The fatal flaw of holding the vote at this early stage was that the 52% were not united in what they wanted. They had yet to decide what leaving actually meant, while the 48% understood remaining meant that we would stay in the EU.

In some cases, the 52% wanted us to stay in a customs union. In others, they wanted to trade on WTO rules before signing Free Trade Agreements. If this had been a choice between three answers, then just 5% of votes in favour of WTO followed by Free Trade Agreements would have meant Remain winning the referendum under the first past the post system and we would not have been in this catastrophic, directionless situation. The political quagmire that has ensued is because of this lack of unity among Leave voters. They have been pulling in different directions while Remain has largely stayed united under a single aim, to stay in the EU.

The multitude of contradictory objectives at even the first layer below the binary choice is what makes the referendum a fundamentally flawed tool. Such a tool should never be used to make such important decisions about the future of a nation.

This error at the national scale has since led to a situation that is calling our democratic system into question, is in danger of splitting both of our major political parties and has uncovered a lack of honour among the politicians that led both campaigns ineffectively. The results of this historic referendum would have been discarded on any smaller topic given the fact that the lead campaign group for Leave has since been found to be in breach of electoral rules and has been fined by the electoral commission.

Furthermore, with the deadlock caused by the lack of unity from the winning side, we are sorely in danger of irreparably damaging our economy, while poverty levels are rising and our social services falling below the worst standards that most people can recall. The NHS is in the worst state it has ever been, schools are failing our young people, and the Universal Credit system is causing a horrific impact on the mental health of those it is supposed to help.

There has been no political bandwidth available to right these wrongs, even while we spend billions of pounds on preparing to implement a decision for which there is no majority. In the instance that Leave voters were clear on what leaving the EU meant for the UK, perhaps we could overlook the lack of integrity demonstrated by the campaign groups that were involved. However, Leave voters do not know what they want. They made a decision based on highly theoretical claims that have turned out to be further from the truth than any recent political promises before.

Without a doubt, the only outcome of continuing on this path is irreparable damage to our nation. As it stands, it is possible that with the right messaging, an outreach programme, and true engagement with the electorate, we could reverse this course of national self-harm and find a solution for which we can demonstrate a majority for something that is not a dream but an implementable plan to move forward.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 24 January 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dreamtime/Skypixel.)