Brexit – Marcus Jones and a Second Referendum

One week ago today, I wrote to my MP, Marcus Jones (Conservative), noting that I along with many thousands of others would be in London to march in support of a People’s Vote; a confirmatory referendum putting the question of Brexit back to the people – should the United Kingdom leave the European Union on the deal negotiated or should it instead choose to remain.

Considering the Brexit issue has caused such a stain on British politics over the last three-and-a-half years, that things have changed since then with ‘leave’ becoming define (versus the vagaries of the term in 2016), that the original referendum was marred with misinformation and outright lies, and that Parliament and government has been stuck finding a way out near-impossible, I am of the firm opinion that it is right and proper that the solution to the problem is to ask the new question – not a re-run of 2016, but very specifically putting the negotiated deal out for public approval but whilst giving them the option to change their mind on the matter entirely should they wish to.

I sent my email to Mr Jones early that Saturday morning just before leaving to get the train to London:

Today I will be joining the many thousands of others who are marching on Parliament to demand a final say on leaving the EU.

After three-and-a-half years, we now know what Brexit means (something that was ill-defined on the 2016 ballot). At the time of the Referendum, ‘Leave’ encompassed a range of views from the hardest Brexit, cut all ties and trade on WTO terms, to softer forms such as remaining in the Customs Union or Single Market. Today, nobody knows for sure whether the form of Brexit on offer is agreeable to those who voted to leave back then.

We must test the view of the people to determine whether they wish to leave on the terms of the Prime Minister’s deal, or on reflection, would they prefer to change their minds and for Britain to remain an active and integral member state in the European Union.

Nobody suggested in 2016 that there would be a customs border in the Irish Sea; nobody was advocating for a drop in GDP that is forecast to occur regardless of which deal we leave on, or indeed if we leave on no deal. What we have today is fundamentally different to that promoted by leave campaigns leading up to the 2016 Referendum and therefore it is only right and democratic to test the flaunted ‘will of the people.’

We have corresponded on this matter a number of times and I know what your position has been. I have understood that you chose to support leave after voting remain because that is what the majority of the Nuneaton and Bedworth constituents voted for. However, I have also said that a confirmatory referendum doesn’t work against that stance. This is as much about checking that this is what leave voters want as it is about there being a chance to remain in the EU. Everybody should have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the crucial juncture, and that is why I implore you to support any motion or amendment for a People’s Vote or confirmatory referendum.

My initial email, 19 October 2019

I’ve written to Mr Jones about this matter before, always getting the same reply that he does not support a second referendum, but I considered it important to raise the matter again because of the march and how the crisis has developed since I’d written before. I didn’t really expect any change of position but the response I received was nonetheless short and disappointing:

Thank you for contacting me about a second referendum.

The British people have already had the final say on the UK’s EU membership and they voted in significant numbers to leave the block in 2016. I am determined to deliver on this result and I oppose a second referendum. Parliament has also rejected a second referendum on two previous occasions.

For too long, millions of people across the country have struggled to make their voice heard. Many of them chose to leave the EU and I believe that another vote would be divisive for British society. Staying in the bloc would also betray the trust of voters in politicians. I believe that the value of democracy lies not just in the number of times citizens vote but also in the effect of that vote.

The Government has reached a new deal with the EU and Parliament will soon vote on it. Over 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU and politicians cannot chose (sic) which public votes they respect.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.

Marcus Jones MP, 21 October 2019

In his response (received by post despite asking for an email), Mr Jones repeats the government line and entirely fails to address the points raised in my initial email. He puts forward flawed and weak arguments against a confirmatory poll and falls back to the tired mantra of the votes of the 17.4 million.

I responded to his letter in a further, longer email (below) explaining precisely the problem with his position and the flaws in his arguments:

I am disappointed with your reply which once again has failed to address the key arguments that I put to you. Instead, you have maintained your steadfast opposition to a second referendum based on the votes of 17.4m people in 2016. You have ignored the point that you categorically cannot say that those voters opted for and are happy to accept the form of Brexit that is on offer through the Prime Minister’s deal.

At the start of my email I stated that three-and-a-half years ago, ‘Leave’ could encompass a number of different options ranging from the hardest of Brexits where we leave without a deal, through to a softer Brexit maintaining the single market and customs union. Today, through Mr Johnson’s deal, that range of options has been narrowed to one. Yet there has been no test to determine whether the public at large are happy with the Brexit on offer now, compared to what was being promised back then.

So, on this basis, please explain why you are so adamantly against a confirmatory poll, to put the Prime Minister’s deal versus remain; because the arguments you gave in your letter are not convincing. A so-called people’s vote gives the public the chance to either confirm their intention and will to leave the EU or, on reflection, to change their minds. As I said, it does not go against the 2016 poll; it works in conjunction with it now that leave is defined. No one can say that the result of the original referendum has been ignored given the state of politics since the result and the efforts undertaken by both Theresa May and Boris Johnson to get a deal – ignoring the referendum result would have been for David Cameron or Theresa May to say in 2016 that actually it’s a bad idea and we’re not going to do it. That, of course, didn’t happen.

It is worthwhile to point out, as I’m sure you know, that Jacob Rees-Mogg even extolled the virtues of a second referendum when speaking in the Commons back on 24 October 2011. If it was a valid idea back then, why not now?

It is easy to find examples of people who voted leave in 2016 who have since changed their minds. There were such people in the march on Saturday. You only need to look at the #RemainerNow hashtag on Twitter to find many more. Why should people not have the opportunity to express their view on this key matter again, now that the nature of the deal, the definition of leave, is known?

You speak about millions of people struggling to make their voices heard. Well, I was among the million people who marched in London on Saturday – a mix of many different people of varying ages and backgrounds; people who voted to leave and people who voted to remain. Do we not deserve to have our voices heard?

You also note the Parliament has before rejected a second referendum on two occasions. This is irrelevant as the matter pertains to the situation as it is now, not in the past. However, if we’re keeping score, Theresa May brought her deal to Parliament for a vote no fewer than three times. If Parliament can be asked again and again on a matter, do you not see it as hypocritical to say that the wider public cannot be asked to confirm their choice to leave, given what has transpired since 2016, what we now know and the deal on offer?

With regard to division in the country, this is a flawed argument with the nation already extremely divided over this matter. I do not see those divisions healing should this Brexit deal be approved and enacted without a people’s vote, especially if people feel any detriment post-exit.

Regarding trust in politicians, I suspect that would be harmed if MPs voted to simply revoke Article 50 without an extremely good reason (though I suspect it would be accepted if the only other option was to leave without a deal, which all analyses suggests would be extremely harmful). I am not calling for that at this time. A confirmatory referendum moves the decision away from politicians back to the people to make an informed decision. Therefore trust in politicians should not come into it since it is not them making the choice.

Based on our previous correspondence of which your replies have always been very much on party message, I sadly don’t hold out too much hope of a more positive response. However, I put these arguments to you in the hope that you will think independently of the party line on this matter and on reflection, break with it as it is misguided, and come to appreciate and promote the arguments in favour of a confirmatory referendum. It is in the national interest, the right thing to do and there is no good reason to deny it.

My reply. 22 October 2019

Sadly, no further reply has yet been received despite the speed of response to my initial email. If that changes, I’ll happily update this post with his response but working on the assumption that one is not forthcoming, it would appear that in rebutting his brief arguments against a confirmatory referendum and putting forward very specific points in favour of it, he is unable to continue his argument. Rather than admit that this would indeed be the best way out of the Brexit mess, silence seems to be considered as the best response.

It is disappointing to have a parliamentary representative that is so in line with the party message. It’s not surprising considering he currently also holds the position of vice-chairman of the Conservative Party for Local Government, but it is disappointing. It means that where an MP might otherwise choose to disagree with government position or policy, or at least be willing to hear and consider alternative arguments, the constituency of Nuneaton and Bedworth instead has a representative who will only work to a position supported by his party regardless of the best interests of the nation first and his constituency second.

Mr Jones has before spun that his current ‘leave’ position is based on the votes of his constituents in the 2016 referendum, in which he voted to remain but 66% of the constituency voted to leave. However, that doesn’t sound quite accurate. Instead, Mr Jones has always voted in line with his party:

  • Cameron’s government supported remain leading up to the vote; Mr Jones supported remain.
  • May’s government took a hard-line leave position wanting a deal but refusing to take ‘no-deal’ off the table; Mr Jones supported and voted for May’s deal but also wouldn’t support ruling out ‘no deal’.
  • Johnson’s government now has its own deal which Mr Jones has voted for.
  • The various Conservative governments have never formally supported a second referendum; Mr Jones doesn’t support a second referendum either.

Indeed, it’s easy to confirm this by looking at his voting record. Since 2010, Mr Jones has rebelled against the Conservative party in just 15 out of 1927 votes (0.78%) – and 13 of those were during the coalition government period. From May 2015 to now, he has rebelled on just two occasions out of 859 votes (0.23%) (Source: The Public Whip. Figures correct as of 24 October 2019)

It is sadly clear that in Mr Jones, Nuneaton and Bedworth has an MP who is primarily concerned with supporting the Conservative Party and Government rather than properly assessing what is best for the national interest and for his constituency.