Joachim Fritz-Vannahme
7. March 2019

No second Brexit referendum, please!

There are increasing calls in the UK for a second referendum on EU withdrawal. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn whispered something about “to go back to the people“, and some party comrades did it after him.

By Sophie Brown – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


In the Financial Times, otherwise less known for Labour sympathies, columnist Martin Wolf told his readers: “A second Brexit referendum is now essential“.

Martin Wolf gave good reasons for a second referendum: The whole debate since the first Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 has turned into a “march of folly” that must finally be stopped: “Has a mature democracy ever inflicted such needless damage on itself?”

Parliament is now, writes Martin Wolf, faced with the choice between the impossible – the so-called no deal and thus an chaotic withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU – and the horrible – the existing Brexit agreement, which Prime Minister Theresa May has already put to the vote once before and for which she suffered a crashing defeat on 14 February 2019 in the House of Commons.

My objection is that a second Brexit referendum would make the EU vulnerable to blackmail if the British voted to stay.

For decades, the British have maintained exceptions in every EU negotiations round, from Maggie Thatchers “I want my money back” in 1984 to the opt-out from the Schengen Agreement, the European Fiscal Compact or cooperation in home and justice affairs.

English (!) politicians would threaten us at every possible opportunity: if “Brussels” does not give in, well, we will just hold another referendum.




In any case, what kind of understanding of democracy is this that is spreading from the British Isles to the European Union? In an existential question for around 500 million citizens, only 66 million Britons, or more precisely: only the voters among them being asked.

There is a much better way. The Swiss provide the model for this. Let us look back to 1978, when 71 percent of Swiss voters and all cantons voted in a referendum for the creation of the new canton of Jura. On 1 January 1979, this canton became “sovereign” in the sense of Switzerland’s political system.

Let us transfer the Swiss model to the EU: This would mean that a majority of voters and all representatives of the member states would have to agree.

However, who asked the 27 EU member states and their citizens whether they agreed with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom? You are right, they haven’t even come up with this thoroughly democratic idea.


Instead, since 2016 at the latest, we have been the powerless and voiceless spectators of a gruesome spectacle that would certainly have inspired Shakespeare in the past (“The Comedy of Errors” would be apt, but the title is unfortunately already taken, so try “The Tragedy of Errors” – or rather “David’s Love Labour’s Lost” or “Theresa’s Tempest“?).

Of course, there is nothing inspiring about the Brexit play today. No Shakespeare in sight, but we have May or Rees-Mogg.

So only Wolf’s choice remains between the impossible and the horrible.


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