A few days ago I read a letter advocating the putting of foreign aid spending to a referendum, which greatly saddened me.
Britain has itself been a recipient of foreign aid, from the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War, gaining $3,297,000,000 in Marshall Aid (equivalent of £2,637,270,300).
The United Kingdom knows the necessity of international development funding and I am proud that we meet our 0.7% GDP commitment to foreign aid, as am I proud that we hit our 2% defence spending target.
The problem, however, with putting this particular issue to referendum would be rather worrying.
For one, such an issue would be contentious and divisive – I imagine a split of roughly 48% to 52% as the result, not willing to wager which side may win the referendum.
Moreover, the referendum would be subject to alternative facts and statistics and also simply deliberately misleading headlines designed to evoke emotion rather than to convey the facts.
The two most striking examples of this would be the hyperbolic fashion in which the No to AV campaign were victorious in 2011 and then the £350million a week bus figure during the most recent referendum.
I also worry that this would open up a slippery slope allowing us to disavow any other internationalist principles we have, much as the Brexit referendum has seemingly given Theresa May the ability to call for an exit from the Single Market (which is not the EU, and Brexiteers such as Dan Hannan and Nigel Farage repeatedly cited Norway which has Single Market membership).
The phrase “will of the people” has seemingly given Theresa May the feeling that she has carte blanche and has given Jeremy Corbyn the feeling that he must abandon any principles he may have had.
While MPs Bridget Phillipson, Sharon Hodgson and Julie Elliott are being forced to abandon their own beliefs because their constituencies voted to leave – MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood can simply cast aside their constituency’s desire to remain because of their own principles.
In addition, the phrase “will of the people” is a very worrisome one.
In 2008, a 52/48 split of Californians elected to rob same-sex couples of their rights to marry, and a referendum in Ireland may have had the same ability.
My question is that should the rights of minorities (ie EU migrants in this case) be put at risk because the people will it – should we have referenda on bringing back torture, the death penalty and outlawing abortions?
My closing remarks are simple; by no means is this great Brexit debacle over with the vote in the House of Commons.
Both remainers and leavers must ensure that the Brexit we end up with is the Brexit wanted by at least a simple majority of the country and that no rights are robbed – my suggestion would be a referendum on the terms of Brexit, to ensure that not just Cabinet and Parliament approve of the final deal but rather the entire country does.
Moreover, I wholeheartedly reject any idea for a referendum on foreign aid.