Some in the pro-EU camp claim that the margin of the pro-independence camp's victory was too narrow to be valid. But as Paddy Ashdown said on the evening of the referendum,
I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or twenty per cent. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don't.
Mind you, he said this when he still thought that his pro-EU camp had won, mistakenly thinking he was defending a narrow victory for remain. Yet it seems the Democratic Baron of Norton-sub-Hamdon has changed his principles, because he now backs the People's Vote campaign and is head of 'Open Britain', which calls for Britain to stay in the EU's Single Market despite our vote to leave it. Strangely, these pro-EU politicians, who claim to be so progressive, echo President Trump's "I'll respect the result – if I win."
If 52 per cent is not a mandate, then Britain has not had a legitimate government in living memory, because no party since 1945 has ever won even 50 per cent of the votes cast.
The following is an extract from Chapter 4 of Brexit: the road to freedom.
17,410,742 people voted for leave, more people than have ever voted for anything in British history. This was 51.9 per cent of those who voted, on a 72.2 per cent turnout, the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. This was far more than voted for Thatcher in her 1979 victory - 13.7 million, or for Blair in his 1997 victory - 13.5 million, far more than voted for the Conservatives in the 2015 general election - 11.3 million, far more than voted for the Conservatives in the 2017 general election – 13.7 million.
As election experts Robert Worcester and Roger Mortimore pointed out, the referendum decision "has greater weight as a democratic mandate than any recent general election: 33.6 million people voted in it. Only once in history (in the general election of 1992) have more – fractionally more – British voters gone to the polls in any national vote; and less than half that number voted in the last election of British MEPs to the European Parliament. Never have as many voters supported any party in a British general election as voted to leave the EU in 2016."[i]
The Electoral Commission called the vote 'a great exercise in democratic participation'. It found that 62 per cent of voters 'felt they had enough information to make an informed decision on how to vote' and that 77 per cent of voters were 'very or fairly confident' that the referendum was well run. It stated that in elections, "national campaign limits are quite flexible. But the very strict rules and caps on referendum campaign spending meant that this one couldn't be bought."
Some said the majority was not big enough to be decisive. But leave voters outvoted stay voters by a majority of 3.8 per cent. This was a bigger margin of victory than in nine of the 20 post-war general elections: 1950, 1951, 1955, 1964, 1970, February 1974, October 1974, 2005 and 2017. Were those nine elections not decisive? In a democracy, the majority gets its way. If we had voted to leave by just one vote, we would leave. Just as in football, you win by one goal, you win. The majority was 1,269,501 votes. To oppose the referendum vote was to endorse the EU's usual anti-democratic practice of making people vote until they obeyed the EU.
Some said the turnout was not high enough for the result to be valid. But the turnout, 72.2 per cent of the electorate, was higher than in seven post-war general elections - 1970, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2017. In 1970 it was 72 per cent, in 1997 it was 71.4 per cent, in 2001 it was 59.4 per cent, in 2005 61.4 per cent, in 2010 65.1 per cent, in 2015 66.1 per cent, and in 2017 68.7 per cent. Were those seven elections not valid?
The total electorate was 46,500,001. The total number of those who voted was 33,568,184. So, 37.44 per cent of the electorate voted to leave, 34.71 per cent to stay. Some said 37.44 per cent was not enough, that this meant that the majority, 62.56 per cent, had not voted to leave, so there was no majority for leaving. But if you did not vote, your abstention should not to be added to the minority vote. Abstentions do not get added to either side. And 37.44 per cent is a majority over 34.71 per cent.
Lord Ashcroft's poll of 24 June 2016 found that the only income group to back staying in the EU was AB, households with an income of more than £60,000, by 57 per cent to 43. C1 was 51 per cent for leave; C2, D and E were all 64 per cent for leave. Class, not education or age, was the decisive factor. As David Goodhart pointed out, "the Brexit vote was probably the most directly class-correlated political choice of my lifetime ..."[ii]
Local authority areas where average annual earnings were above £23,000 were 35 per cent for leave. Local authority areas where average annual earnings were below £23,000 were 77 per cent for leave. Local authority areas with relatively high-priced housing were 28 per cent for leave. Local authority areas with relatively low-priced housing were 79 per cent for leave. Industrial areas were more pro-leave. 232 local authority areas with relatively high levels of manufacturing were 86 per cent for leave. 148 local authority areas with relatively low levels of manufacturing were 42 per cent for leave.
Many thought that the vote for Trump and the vote for Brexit were parts of the same movement. One key difference demolished this claim. In the US election, the richer you were, the more likely you were to vote for Trump. In the referendum, the richer you were, the more likely you were to vote against Brexit. Trump won in all income groups whose income was more than $50,000 a year: the US rich largely voted for Trump. By contrast, the leave side won in all income groups except the richest: the British rich largely voted against Brexit.
Professor Richard Tuck argued, "Brexit was in fact an inoculation against Trump and the politics of the radical right. Leaving the EU would not only kill Scottish independence, it would also kill the kind of right-wing politics in England which UKIP represented, since it was largely driven by a sense of powerlessness. The feeling – and it need be no more than that – that the political process could after all be responsive to what people wanted even on fundamental matters would immediately remove the emotional force from the radical right's message, and that too duly seems to have happened. Compare UKIP's performance in the election with Trump's, or with Marine Le Pen's, or the radical right's performance in almost any Western country today."[iii]
Federica Liberini, Andrew Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Michela Redoano concluded that, "despite many commentators' guesses, Brexit was apparently not caused by the attitudes of old people. Only the very young were disproportionately pro-Remain. On our estimates, for example, there was little difference between being aged 35, 55 or 75. This was not what we had expected to observe in the data."[iv]
Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley concluded, "Although Leave voting was greater among older, less well-educated 'white English' people in lower social grades, it would be an error to conclude that Brexit lacked broad-based support: public support for leaving the EU was relatively widespread. In the end, only London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the university towns were bastions of support for Remain. Elsewhere across the UK Brexit was the preferred option in most locales."[v] By contrast, 73 per cent of MPs voted to stay in the EU, as did 58 per cent of the House of Lords.
22 per cent of graduates voted for leave. 33 per cent who described themselves as Asian voted for leave, as did 27 per cent of black people and 30 per cent of Muslims. Also for leave were 37 per cent of those who had voted Labour in 2015, 36 per cent of those who had voted SNP, 30 per cent of those who had voted LibDem and 25 per cent of those who had voted Green.
Some complained that UK citizens living in EU member countries were not allowed to vote, but the franchise was based on eligibility to vote in a general election. So it excluded UK citizens who had been resident abroad for more than fifteen years: the Divisional Court upheld this decision as legal.[vi]
Some complained that 16- and 17-year-olds were not allowed to vote. But there are about 1.5 million 16- and 17-year-olds in Britain and it would have been difficult to register them all in time for the referendum. It was not certain how they would have voted, nonetheless Professor Kenneth Armstrong concluded, reasonably enough, that "The Leave margin of victory would have narrowed very considerably had under 18s been allowed to vote, but it may not have changed the result in June 2016."[vii]
As Worcester and Mortimore pointed out, "Even if the turnout of 18-24 year olds had been as high as the 78% turnout of 65-74 year olds – and assuming that all those youngsters who didn't vote would have voted the same way as those that did (which is a big assumption in itself) – that would not have been enough to put Remain ahead; there are simply not enough of them. And even if we bring the 25-34 year olds and 35-44 year olds into the equation, both groups that had a Remain majority, and calculate what would have happened if there had been an equal turnout across all age groups, Leave still wins. The outcome of the referendum cannot be blamed on too few young people voting."[viii]
To overturn the result, an impossible 120 per cent of the 18-24-year olds would have had to have voted, rather than the 64 per cent who did. To overturn the result, 97 per cent of all those aged 18-45 would have had to have voted, rather than the 65 per cent who did.[ix] The youth of tomorrow will realise, as did the youth of 1975, the folly of giving up our independence.
Some complained that the referendum was won by fraud. But when the Electoral Commission investigated allegations made against Vote Leave, the Commission refused even to meet Vote Leave officials. These officials frequently tried to meet the Commission to defend themselves, but the Commission failed to interview a single senior Vote Leave staff member during its investigation. This was a breach of natural justice.
The Commission's central finding was reached because the Commission wrongly claimed that an email from Dominic Cummings to donor Anthony Clake proved that Vote Leave was raising donations for BeLeave to make BeLeave spend that money on the data analytics firm Aggregate IQ. The Commission missed the evidence from other emails that BeLeave had requested money to spend on AIQ weeks before.
The Commission claimed that Vote Leave controlled BeLeave's messaging, yet the Commission ignored evidence from the whistleblowers themselves that BeLeave controlled the messaging. The Commission claimed BeLeave was set up in May 2016. It was set up many months before. The Commission's own former retained barrister, Tim Straker QC, pointed out that all its mistakes amounted to 'an error in law'.
The Commission refused to investigate the evidence against the Remain campaign. In the month before the vote, the official Remain campaign set up five new campaigns and funneled a total of a million pounds into them so that it could stay under the spending limit. DDB UK Ltd registered as an independent campaign on 25 May. It received £191,000 in donations. Best For Our Future registered as a permitted participant on 27 May. It received £424,000 in donations. The In Crowd registered on 10 June. It received £76,000 in donations. Virgin Management Ltd registered as a permitted participant on 3 June. It received £210,000 in donations. Wake Up And Vote registered as a permitted participant on 24 May. It received £100,000 in donations.
Britain's struggle was unique, our political culture was unique, and our decision was unique.This was the biggest peace time change in Britain for centuries. Gordon Brown wrote that the decision was "the largest popular revolt against political, business and financial elites, the nearest Britain has come in centuries to a revolution."[x] Michael Mosbacher and Oliver Wiseman wrote that it was 'the single most revolutionary democratic act since the extension of the franchise'.[xi] The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said that it was 'an orderly revolution … when the leave campaign outfoxed and outfought the political establishment'. 2016 was the first referendum in Britain when the government and the state did not get the result they wanted.
The key issue was democracy. Lord Ashcroft's poll of 12,369 people, taken on the day of the referendum after they had voted, found that the biggest single reason for their decision, cited by 49 per cent of those who had voted leave, was 'the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK'. The vote for Brexit was a vote for national democracy.
The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey found that the vote to leave the EU was not 'a backlash against social liberalism'. It reported, "Britain emerged from the referendum far more sceptical about the EU than it had ever been previously. By the time the referendum was over, as many as three in four voters (75%) felt that Britain should either leave the EU or that if it stayed the institution's powers should be reduced. This represented an increase of 11 points in the proportion feeling that way as compared with 12 months earlier, and a 9 point increase on the previous all-time high recorded by the BSA survey, of two-thirds (67%) in 2012. More importantly, however, whereas previously most Eurosceptics said that Britain should stay in the EU while endeavouring to reduce its powers, by the time that the referendum was over the majority felt that we should leave – and as a result the proportion who took that view (41%) was nearly double the proportion recorded in the previous year (22%)."[xii]
We were told that it was a symbolic vote, a proxy vote, a protest vote, an anti-austerity vote (the UCU executive), 'a vote against something not a vote for something' (Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff), anything other than a vote to leave the EU. Some called the referendum and our decision 'divisive'. Would they have said this if we had voted to stay? It was not sensible to object that the referendum was divisive; of course it was, so were elections, when majorities told minorities that they could not get what they wanted. The only alternative was for minorities to tell majorities that they could not get what they wanted.
[i] Robert Worcester, Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill, Explaining Cameron's catastrophe, IndieBooks, 2017, p. 13.
[ii] David Goodhart, The road to somewhere: the populist revolt and the future of politics, Hurst & Company, 2017, pp. 19-20.
[iii] Richard Tuck, Brexit: a prize in reach for the left, 17 July 2017.
[iv] Federica Liberini, Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Michela Redoano, Was Brexit Caused by the Unhappy and the Old? September 2017, p. 14.
[v] Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley, Brexit: why Britain voted to leave the European Union, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 173.
[vi] Shindler and Maclennan  EWHC [High Court of England and Wales] 957. See Kenneth Armstrong, Brexit time: leaving the EU, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 54.
[vii] Kenneth Armstrong, Brexit time: leaving the EU, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 54.
[viii] Robert Worcester, Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill, Explaining Cameron's catastrophe, IndieBooks, 2017, p. 119.
[ix] See Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon, Brexit and British politics, Polity Press, 2017, p. 85.
[x] Financial Times, 18 July 2016.
[xi] Michael Mosbacher and Oliver Wiseman, Brexit revolt: how the UK voted to leave the EU, New Culture Forum, 2016, p. 48.
[xii] British Social Attitudes 34 - The vote to leave the EU, NatCen Social Research, 2017, pp. 16-7.