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Head-to-head: Academic showdown over Brexit and second referendum

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Published on 13 November 2018

Dr Kevin Yuill and Dr Peter Hayes
Dr Kevin Yuill and Dr Peter Hayes

From the moment the UK made the decision to exit the European Union in 2016 there has been a simmering political and public debate on revisiting the outcome in a second referendum.

But the ‘People’s Vote’ as it has been dubbed is fast becoming as divisive as its predecessor.

Here University of Sunderland academics Dr Peter Hayes – a staunch remainer – and Dr Kevin Yuill – a Brexit champion – set out the case for and against ahead of a public debate on the issue at the University on Tuesday, November 13.


Yes – Dr Peter Hayes, Senior Lecturer in Politics

There should be a second referendum and it should be held ASAP. 

We should not wait to have a referendum on the deal the government makes;  it is possible that there may not be a deal, or that the deal reached may be merely to keep negotiating in an extended ‘transition period’ with substantial issues unresolved.

The best option is to hold another referendum now, with exactly the same wording as last time: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

There should be referendum to make sure that, knowing what we now do, the majority of the voting public in the UK still want to leave the EU.

An essential part of a democracy is that the public are able to come to reasoned decisions when they vote. Since the first referendum vote, on June 232016, there has been a steep learning curve about the EU; the public is now far better informed than it was about both the specific issues and about the power politics of leaving the Union. 

In fact, we have probably learned more about the UK’s place in the EU in the two years since 2016 than we did in the more than 40 years since we first voted to confirm membership of the Common Market (as it was then called) back in 1975.

A second essential part of democracy is being able to change your mind, or to correct mistakes; this is partly why we have recurring general elections. It is, therefore, wholly democratic, as well as vitally important to the UK’s future, that the public is given the chance to confirm whether or not they wish to leave the EU.

A second referendum should appeal to both remainers and leavers.  Without a further referendum, the most likely prospect of agreement is a ‘soft’ Brexit that would put the UK in a position akin to Norway. 

By common consent this outcome is unsatisfactory:  it leaves the UK with almost all of the obligations of EU membership without the right to be a decision maker. 

However, if leave voters win a second referendum this would greatly strengthen the position of the government in seeking a ‘hard’ Brexit agreement akin to Canada, as after two referendums a soft Brexit fudge would become politically impossible. 

If leavers think they may lose a second referendum vote, this is no reason not to hold one.  It is perverse to want to drag the country into a position that you suspect the majority now rejects.

If the remain side does indeed win a second referendum, then the UK still has time to rectify the mistake that was made in 2016.  It can withdraw its notice to quit and stay within the EU with all its advantages.


No. Dr Kevin Yuill, Programme Leader for History and ardent Brexiteer

There should not be a second referendum because to have another would be to negate the biggest democratic vote in British history.

It would fatally undermine democracy in the UK. Is remaining attached to Brussels really more important than maintaining the hard-won existence of democracy in the United Kingdom?

Those who call for a “People’s referendum” must now ask themselves this question.

The “People’s vote” is if anything the opposite of a people’s vote. Always an Orwellian enterprise, it is an elite project – Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, Richard Branson, assorted luvvies and the House of Lords – against the people.

It seems purposefully to sow confusion – is this a vote on the final deal or is it a vote to remain in or leave the EU – in order to fudge the clear will of the people? The aim here is not to change people’s minds, but to beat Leave voters into submission after they have been softened up by some rather ridiculous scaremongering, none of which, so far, has materialised.

This vote comes from the same people who called the British people racist, ignorant, selfish and many other names for having the temerity to question their betters and threaten their property portfolios in London. It is a horrendous betrayal of the men and women who died for extension of the vote to tell the majority of the country, as the People’s vote clearly does, that your votes do not matter, that the opinions of bankers in London count more than those of people in the North East.

It is unworkable. If this vote goes ahead, will we then have another in two years to make it the best of five? Most people – those who voted Remain and those who voted Leave – accepted the rules before we voted.

Sensible remainers will respect the June 23 vote just as the Irish – no matter what their opinion – must respect the result in May of this year.

We cannot simply annul votes we do not like. The UK has sent troops to ensure democracy abroad; how hypocritical would any further British comment on non-democratic nations when it does not follow through on the biggest vote in its history?

What does anyone think Scotland will do if the “People’s referendum” goes ahead?

We need to accept the vote and move forward to a new future – which is what most people, I think, voted for on June 23 2016. But make no mistake that it is no longer about whether or not we will leave Europe. British democracy will be destroyed for an entire generation if the biggest vote in the country’s history is rescinded.”


Dr Hayes and Dr Yuill will hold a debate entitled ‘Brexit: Should there be a Second Referendum?’ On Tuesday, November 13, between 6.15pm and 7.45pm at the Sir Tom Cowie Lecture Theatre, St Peter’s Campus, University of Sunderland.

For more information on the event and to register, visit here