Praesidium

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Liveblogging Brexit #3: Federal union?

I'm not sure whether this link will work - it's intended to go to comment 300 on this story. In case it doesn't, or ceases to in future, here is the relevant comment:



The relevant part, corrected for better English, is:

"How can the Brexit referendum result be to leave, if three countries voted against leaving and only one voted to leave? It's really not democracy, if three countries are held to ransom by one."

First, this is factually inaccurate, as Leave won in Wales and England so, on a country by country basis, it's actually two apiece, not three-to-one.

Suppose, however, the facts were as 'gerry' suggested and only England had voted to leave. Would this be democratic?

The referendum was a UK-wide one. There were over 28m votes cast in England (plus Gibraltar), compared to around 5m from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Or, in terms of potential electorates, 39m to 7.5m. Thus, a large enough majority in England would be able to outvote the other countries on a 'one person, one vote' basis. That's how most people normally understand democracy.

There are some countries where major constitutional decisions would have to be ratified by a majority of constituent federal units or similar. I'm sympathetic to the idea that a major constitutional decision should not be left to a simple majority process. However, I'm not sure whether treating the UK as a four-country federal system is the answer.

Suppose it had been specified, in advance of the referendum, that Brexit would only happen if at least two of the four countries voted to leave the EU. In that case, just 4m people (majorities in Wales, Scotland, and N.I.) would have been able to block Brexit, even if over 40m others (the whole population of England plus the minority in each of those three countries) had voted to leave. Surely, that would be undemocratic...

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