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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2016 > It’s not over until it’s over

It’s not over until it’s over

With some modest EU reform Britain could stay in Europe while obtaining the deal it wants—all that is needed is flexibility from both sides

If there is one fixed point in the hurricane of politics in post-referendum Britain it is the dogma that referendums are sacrosanct. The people, it is claimed, have made an irreversible decision to take Britain out of the European Union—and however dire the consequences of this decision, democracy requires “the people’s will” to be obeyed. This dogma is a travesty of true democracy. Insisting that a referendum vote can never be reversed or even challenged conflicts with history, with law and, most importantly, with democratic principles. In genuine democracy nothing is ever irreversible, since every decision, regardless of the majority that supports it, is always open to debate.

This principle of continuous challenge must be restored—and quickly—if Britain is to avoid an economic and political catastrophe: a deep recession that will cause greatest hardship among the very groups that have been most aroused by the campaign for Brexit, and thereby magnify the public anger and political chaos already unleashed by the referendum.

To avoid the crisis three conditions will be need to be fulfilled. First and foremost, politicians, media commentators and business leaders will have to stop parroting empty slogans such as “Brexit means Brexit” or “the voice people has spoken” and instead begin a serious debate about the appropriate balance between direct and representative democracy in Britain’s constitution. Second, the new government will have to devise a detailed programme on how to preserve the most important benefits of EU membership, while keeping faith with democracy, and then present this to the voters. Third, political leaders from the rest of Europe will have to show greater flexibility and a stronger instinct for the EU’s self-preservation than they have so far.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.