Lessons from New Zealand: Cameron’s Brexit vote and the single market

PM attends European Council

When David Cameron’s Brexit referendum took place, there should have been subsequent questions about the type of deal the UK would get.

There is strong logic behind the argument for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Such a vote would complete a process that started with a referendum. Such a referendum would be considered as a fitting end to one rollercoaster of a political chapter.

On the other hand, a second referendum could feel like a betrayal to the passionate masses who voted to leave the EU, especially if such a vote were to include the option to reject departure and stay in the union. This is a fair argument, and one that is often overlooked by the most passionate of remainers.

Ideally, the recent election should have sorted the situation out, but the hung parliament only brought further ambiguity.

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So, what should be done?

Ideally, this should be a question of “what should have been done?” not “what should be done now?”

It’s obvious that David Cameron never expected the British electorate to vote against him. With the real possibility of a Brexit vote, the public should have been asked alongside their decision to leave or remain in the EU, what they wanted from Brexit if it happened.

A vote on single-market membership, and similar could have been asked.

So often, Leave politicians say a vote to leave was a vote to exit the single market as well. Remainers are just as guilty of the counter argument. “The will of the people” is invoked as the ultimate pass card, but what if it did not have to be this way?

Take New Zealand’s 1992 referendum on switching from the FPTP voting system to an alternative vote. When voters walked into their ballot boxes in 1992 they were asked two simple questions. The first asked if they wanted to keep FPTP or switch to another system. Just shy of 85% of voters opted for change.

But what change?

A supplementary question answered that.

Voters were then asked to choose one of four options: the Preferential Vote, the Mixed Member Proportional system, the Supplementary Member system or the Single Transferable vote.

There was no guarantee that a change would be voted for, but all voters – whether or not they opted for change – were asked to decide what sort of change they would like if change was chosen.

As it happened, 65% of voters backed MMP, which was subsequently confirmed in a 1993 referendum. Said subsequent referendum was a choice between MMP and FPTP.

The point is that voters were asked to decide between the status-quo and change. This was followed by the ability for voters to declare what change they wanted.

Brexit

When voters were asked on the 23rd of June if they wanted Brexit, they should also have been asked what type of Brexit they most desired

Let the people decide, not the politicians.

When it comes to that line of thinking, New Zealand has it bang on.