Sorry but we can’t have a second referendum – here’s what we can do instead

Every minute the crisis engulfing the United Kingdom worsens. There is no leadership and no plan, with both the major political parties in disarray. When the markets re-open on Monday, all hell will likely break loose now that it has become clear just how bad things are likely to get.

Many Remain campaigners – of whom I was one – are in outright denial. A petition for a second referendum has garnered over three million signatures. An anti-Brexit march is planned for London on 9 July. But both these efforts are fatally flawed – we cannot base a campaign on overturning the expressed will of the majority of the British voters.

Yes, holding a referendum was an utterly stupid move, and one that will indeed put David Cameron down as one of the worst prime ministers in history. For short-term party political gain he gambled and lost an entire country. Neville Chamberlain looks like a wise sage in comparison. But we all went along with it and voted. We can’t change the rules post-facto now, because we don’t like the result.

The anti-Brexit event page says:

We almost prevented the Iraqi war by getting out on the streets. Now it is the populous vote that we need to take issue with. … The power is still with the people and we can change things if we are organised and passionate in our response. Let’s unite the Remain voters and those who regret their vote to leave, to turn this on its head. (my emphasis)

I’m sorry, but I can’t support that. That isn’t democracy – it’s explicitly anti-democratic in aiming to overturn the popular vote on the basis of people turning up physically in London for a rally. That way leads to mob rule. (I’d be in favour of a rally, by the way, but on different principles outlined below.)

The people have spoken, and the verdict was ‘Leave’. Yes, they were lied to about the NHS and immigration. But the people are sovereign and their vote must stand. We are leaving the EU. Now we need to focus on what comes next.

Here’s some ideas for what a progressive strategy might look like:

  • We must accept the referendum result and move forward with triggering Article 50. What’s done is done. Other EU countries have made clear that they want shot of Britain as quickly as possible.
  • We must accept that Scotland will now leave the UK. I opposed the first referendum on independence but I would support another now in order for the democratic wish of Scots to Remain in the EU to be respected.
  • A new England-Wales-EU association agreement should include freedom of movement. Otherwise logically there must be a hard border north of Hadrian’s Wall following Scottish secession, which is unthinkable.
  • A united Ireland makes more sense now than for nearly a century, as Northern Ireland also voted Remain, but not at the price of renewed conflict. Keeping UK-EU freedom of movement would reduce some of the tension here – otherwise the NI/Republic of Ireland border would have to be re-fortified.
  • We must demonstrate solidarity with EU citizens of other nations who are currently in the United Kingdom. Whatever happens they will permanently have the right to remain in the UK with all the rights of other British citizens. They should not feel insecure or unwanted.
  • Keeping freedom of movement means we will not be “stopping immigration”, which was a major concern of many who voted Leave. Urgent ways must be found to reduce the social inequality which has driven this division so ably exploited by Farage et al and which are equally behind the rise of the far right everywhere.
  • Boris Johnson must accept that he has no mandate to become prime minister, and if he seeks the premiership it will be in the teeth of opposition from most of the political class, who now detest him for the damage he has done.
  • Whoever takes over the premiership from the humiliated Cameron must quickly call a general election, and ideally something more profound, like a constitutional assembly to work out the future of the UK’s political system.
  • To the extent that we can, we should aim to shore up the European Union so that other member states do not make the same mistake. The EU is the most important peace project in history, and exists for a reason.
  • We are suddenly plunged into a crucial period of history-making. Many subsequent generations will be affected by the decisions we make over the next few days. Let’s not get it wrong by allowing progressive politics to be permanently sidelined by the opportunistic liars who have got us into this mess.


    David MacKay – last interview and tribute

    I had the honour of recording David MacKay’s last interview, on 3 April 2016. The idea was to present him with the Breakthrough Paradigm award because due to his illness he was unlikely to be able to travel to the awards ceremony in June 2016. However, we talked about a lot of different things, and together with David’s wife Ramesh I wanted this video and tribute to appear beforehand in full and unedited. David obviously knew he didn’t have long, and was consequently more forthright than he had perhaps been in previous interviews. Please do not quote him out of context or sensationalise what he said.

    David died soon aftewards. You can read my personal thoughts about David in this blogpost, read David’s own final blogposts here, and also find the obituary I wrote for him in the Guardian newspaper. You’ll see he also mentions the Global Calculator, which you can find here. My thanks go to Davin Yap, who did the cameras, and Robert Stone, who put the different feeds together and stitched it into a remarkable piece of film and I hope a fitting tribute to David MacKay. Thanks are also due, as you will see, to The Proclaimers.


    See you in 500 Miles!

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    Deformed GMO Franken-butterflies? Not so fast…

    It’s like Seralini with caterpillars. While the estimable Professor Giles-Eric had his infamous rats with tumours, this time we get deformed butterflies. The only surprise is that the media has not so far picked up the story, despite the catchy photographs helpfully included by the authors (see below). This is probably a good thing, because a read of the paper in question suggests two things: one, it is irrelevant, and two, it is likely wrong anyway.


    Butterfly with deformed wings on the left, purportedly ’caused’ by novel fatty acids in GMO camelina

    Some background: Scientists at the government-funded Rothamsted Research institute in the UK have been developing omega-3 fatty acids in the oilseed crop camelina, using genetic engineering to transfer the relevant genes into the target plant. The object is to develop a sustainable source of feed for fish farming: currently farmed salmon are dependent for these essential oils on fish harvested from the marine environment. To reduce the burden of overfishing we need a land-based supply of feed, hence the project.

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    UK’s top scientists slam Times newspaper over climate denialist stories

    An eminent group of some of the UK’s top names in science, business and policy has sent a letter to the editor of the Times newspaper harshly criticising its coverage of climate change – which in recent days has included reports claiming that the global temperature will not rise during this century, and that ocean acidification is not a concern. I reproduce this letter in full below:

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    Sir David MacKay obituary

    David with his trusty bicycle. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

    David with his trusty bicycle. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

    Please note: details of funeral arrangements for David are here.

    Sir David MacKay, who has died of cancer aged 48, was a true polymath, a rare breed in today’s world, where the frontiers of scientific knowledge are increasingly remote and complex. It is a testament to David’s intellectual brilliance that he was able to contribute to advancing more than one of these frontiers during his short career.

    Full obituary in the Guardian, written by Mark Lynas, published 18 April 2016

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