Wow! Here, courtesy of the Economist, is something I hadn’t remembered:
A second issue is the nature of British democracy, and in particular how badly equipped it is to cope with referendums. Other countries that use them, such as Switzerland or Ireland, have constitutional provisions laying down when and how to do so. But the unwritten British constitution confers total sovereignty on Parliament, as the epitome of a representative rather than a direct democracy. This sits uncomfortably with the notion of asking voters to make policy choices, as David Cameron did when putting Britain’s EU membership to a referendum in June 2016.
Despite this, Britain has in recent years made extensive use of referendums. Indeed, if one includes regional ones, in the past 20 years it has had more of them than it has had general elections. But the idea that they can settle contentious issues has been repeatedly disproved. The 1975 referendum on membership of the European Economic Community produced a decisive two-to-one result for staying in. Yet within eight years the Labour Party promised to pull out of the EEC without even consulting voters again.
A more recent example is more embarrassing for Mrs May. This week she argued that the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum must be honoured by all, because a 1997 referendum narrowly backing the creation of a Welsh assembly had been similarly accepted. Yet this overlooked the awkward truth that, along with her Tory colleagues, she had voted against the assembly, despite the referendum. What’s more, eight years later the Tories were campaigning for a second referendum with the option of overturning the result of the first—something she has explicitly ruled out for Brexit.