Author: Oliver Conolly

The Case for a Second Brexit Referendum Revisited: A Response to Madeline Grant

In her article “The Case Against a Second Referendum,” Madeline Grant has written an extensive critique of my “The Case For a Second Referendum.” Restrictions of space preclude a detailed consideration of the numerous objections she raises. I ignore altogether the personal comments she makes in the section portentiously titled “Bias,” and elsewhere, on the basis that they are irrelevant. It is worth standing back and re-iterating the basic, and quite simple, position set out in my article—that the best argument for a second referendum is that the “Leave” proposition in the first referendum in 2016 was, necessarily, extremely general, and that the terms of Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement are, by contrast, very specific. The Withdrawal Agreement provides a glide-path to a future which many Leave voters did not and indeed could not have anticipated in 2016. The two most prominent advocates for the Leave proposition, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have both said in terms that the Withdrawal Agreement is worse than staying in the EU. They also insist that the electorate not be …

The Case for a Second EU Referendum

There is a great deal of talk in Britain at the moment about a “People’s Vote”—a referendum on the terms of the withdrawal agreement between the UK government and the EU, with an option to remain in the EU. It was predictable in June 2016 that sooner or later minds would focus on the terms of the agreement that would need to be reached as part of the process when the British government triggered Article 50, the clause of the Treaty on European Union that enables member states to secede. One of the advantages of the time-limited nature of the Article 50 process is that it means the issue cannot be delayed indefinitely. This focusing of minds has, unsurprisingly, led to widespread calls for a “People’s Vote.” It is equally unsurprising that the proposal should encounter stiff resistance. Many voters were led to believe, not least by the British Government, that their vote in the 2016 referendum would settle the matter of the UK’s EU membership once and for all. Against that backdrop, many people …

Direct Democracy and Its Discontents

The word “democracy” has a kind of halo around it. In right-thinking circles, criticism of democracy seems inherently indecent. This is not completely unwarranted. There is a good deal to be said in favour of the various forms of parliamentary democracy that have evolved around the world in the last 250 years. Whilst the causes of (previously unthinkable) increases in living standards around the world in that period are debated by historians, there is a plausible case that parliamentary democracy is at least one of the ingredients of that transformation. And democracy is not merely a means to the end of increased GDP. It also embodies fundamental values which we hold dear, such as respect for the dignity and liberty of the individual. Whilst parliamentary democracy clearly has a lot going for it, direct democracy is something quite different. Of the 196 countries in the world 123 are representative democracies. None are direct democracies. Switzerland – or rather some cantons within in – comes closest, but is still nowhere near a pure direct democracy. What …