One Liberal Democrat, 19 Labour MPs, and 81 Conservative MPs voted for a referendum asking the UK electorate if they wanted to remain in the European Union, or leave it. That was in defiance of their party leaders, who, in the unique system of British democracy, had instructed them to vote the other way. They were resoundingly defeated, with a roughly 80% – 20% outcome (not including 15 Conservative abstentions).
There was much synthetic outrage among the anti-European faction that the political parties in parliament were resisting the democratic imperative to “ask the people”. In fact, a current opinion poll suggests that 49% of the voters would vote to leave the EU, while only 40% would definitely vote to stay in. Which is the whole point.
Those championing a referendum as the epitome of democracy would be the very last to want a referendum on, say, taxing bankers’ bonuses, or greater commercialization of the NHS. It’s nothing to do with democracy, it’s about knowing the answer you want and doing anything to achieve it. The opinion poll makes it look as though there is a good chance that a referendum would deliver an “out” result, which would delight the anti-Europeans.
There’s a very good reason why only 20% of MPs would want to pull out of Europe, while 49% of the general population say they are inclined that way. It’s because the MPs are, on average, better informed. Many of them, being full-time politicians and able to devote time and intellectual effort to understanding political issues, don’t base their world view entirely on the output of the tabloid press. (Theresa May, and I’m not making this up, being an exception, obviously.)
Since they are fed a constant diet of deceit and misinformation, it’s not surprising that some members of the public can get caught up in jingoistic euphoria and entirely fail to understand that leaving the EU would have consequences, some of which they would like not at all.
That’s not necessarily the case with anti-European Conservative MPs (Theresa May, cats etc. excepted, again.) For some of them, the consequences are exactly what they’re after. And I’ll pick just one, which has been explicitly mentioned by these Conservatives: “repatriation” of employment law. To spell it out, right-wing Conservatives don’t like workers having rights; they say it costs money.
How many of the 49% of the public would answer differently if the question was presented to them in a different way? Say “Do you want the country to stay in the EU; or do you want all your fair employment rights to be abolished?”