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‘Will of the people’? 10 reasons why politicians need to stop saying it

Hundreds of thousands packed out Parliament Square for the anti-Brexit People's Vote march. Photograph: Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment. - Credit: Empics Entertainment

Aren’t you sick of hearing the phrase ‘will of the people’? It has been parroted by Leavers since the EU referendum – but the Brexit decision neither represents the views of the UK nor is it likely to become so.

Here are ten reasons why politicians and Brexiteers need to quit using it:

1. The Leave campaign cheated

The Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police by the Electoral Commission. The campaign group Leave.EU was also fined £70,000 for breaches of election law in the 2016 EU referendum. Darren Grimes who set up youth-oriented group BeLeave, was fined after the Electoral Commission found he had spent £675,000 on digital campaigning on behalf of the main Brexit group Vote Leave and failed to declare he was working with the larger organisation.

There have been calls for the referendum to be re-run as a result. According to the Venice Commission on referendums, which the UK is a signatory, ‘if the cap on spending is exceeded by a significant margin, the vote must be annulled’.

2. It was based on lies

The UK Statistic Authority rebuked politicians for claiming that £350m a week goes to the EU and could go to the NHS. ‘I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.’ He added: ‘It is a clear misuse of official statistics’.

The OBR and IFS also predict finances will be in a worse state and that a Brexit ‘dividend’ will not materialise. We’re not saving any money on membership fees. Any money that could have been saved has already been earmarked for the divorce bill and the government’s commitment to replace EU funding after Brexit.

3. Only 37% of the electorate voted for it

Around 12.9 million people did not vote. According to the London School of Economics, had voting been compulsory the polls indicate the result would have been to Remain from day zero, and would still be Remain.

4. Many voted to Remain

Many major cities voted to Remain in the European Union. In Scotland 62% voted to stay, as did 59.9% of London and 55.8% of Northern Ireland. Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff also voted to Remain. Gibraltar also voted by 96% to Remain – but Brexit now makes it vulnerable.

5. A majority now say Brexit is going badly

A YouGov poll found 69% of Brits now argue that Brexit was going badly. Just 16% think that it is going well so far.

6. People are entitled to change their minds as the facts change

Democracy did not end on June 23, 2016.

The result does not necessarily reflect the ‘will of the people’ today. Opinion polls since the EU referendum suggest if there was a fresh vote people would most likely back Remain.

In fact opinion polls appeared to give a majority to Remain in the days up to the EU referendum causing Nigel Farage to initially concede defeat.

Moreover there now appears to be strong public support for a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal. Ironically, 48% of Brits support a vote on the final deal, while just 25% do not, according to pollster Survation.

7. Brexit now threatens peace in Northern Ireland

Brexiteers often scoff at this but it is deadly serious. Northern Ireland did not vote to Leave and the Brexit process could now jepodise the Good Friday agreement.

Ireland’s prime minister warned this is because ‘it threatens to drive a wedge between Britain and Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and potentially between the two communities in Northern Ireland. And that’s why we must do all that we can to make sure that those wedges, that that risk, does not become reality.’

8. The suggestion of Russia interference

In January 2018, a US Senate report suggested possible ways Russia may have influenced the Brexit campaign. One suggestion is that loose UK campaign finance laws ‘may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors’.

Prime minister Theresa May has previously accused Russia of spreading fake news and misinformation online as part of a campaign to ‘sow discord in the West’.

A study published in The Times reports that it tracked 156,252 Russian accounts which mentioned #Brexit, and found Russian accounts posted almost 45,000 messages mentioning the EU referendum in the 48 hours around the vote.

Last December the chair of the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee criticised Facebook for failing to properly investigate suspicious activity surrounding the EU referendum like with the US and French presidential elections.

He said: ‘Facebook conducted its own research to identify tens of thousands of fake pages and accounts that were active during the French presidential election’.

‘They should do the same looking back at the EU referendum and not just rely on external sources referring evidence of suspicious activity back to them.’

9. The referendum was a tight result and was non-binding

Nigel Farage said a narrow win in the opposite direction would be ‘unfinished business’ and that there could be unstoppable demand for a re-run of the EU referendum. He told the Mirror: ‘In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.’

The European Union Referendum Act 2015 – the law that allowed the referendum to take place – also didn’t specify what would happen in the event of a vote to leave.

A House of Lords Constitution Committee report in 2010 said ‘because of the sovereignty of parliament, referendums cannot be legally binding in the UK, and are therefore advisory’.

10. There’s no mandate for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit or the Chequers deal.

Both options offer a Brexit that effectively no-one is happy with.

A poll conducted by YouGov for the Sunday Times in July 2018 found that almost half of people think the Chequers deal would be bad for the UK. Just 11% would choose the option if it was presented on a referendum ballot.

The same poll found 54% of people would rather Remain in the EU if the alternative option was crashing out with no deal, which was favoured by 46%.

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