The British public made history today by voting to leave the European Union. Results of the EU referendum have sparked rumours that other European countries are calling for their own vote. Commenting on the results, the Electoral Reform Society says Britain should remain united to decide what happens next.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “This is a monumental shift and arguably the biggest constitutional change Britain has seen for a generation. We are in uncharted waters and must think very carefully about what happens next.
“We need a national conversation about where Britain goes from here and how our democracy should take shape as the process of leaving the EU takes hold.
“In his resignation speech, David Cameron said that there should be ‘full engagement’ of the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We welcome this – but if the referendum has shown anything it is that the public must be involved as well.
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“The high turnout of 72% has shown yet again that there’s a huge appetite for thinking about constitutional issues – something we saw with the Scottish referendum. This should be the beginning rather than the end of public involvement.
“But there are stark divisions in the UK that have been laid bare by this referendum – between nations and regions, and between different demographics. Scotland, Northern Ireland and London very strongly voted to stay in the EU, while England and Wales voted to leave. With two nations voting to Leave and two voting to Remain, we’re at risk of constitutional chaos and are witnessing a widening chasm between the countries of the UK. Every effort now needs to be made to build bridges given the closeness of the result – this 52-48 split reflects a divided and fragmented politics in Britain.
“Leave campaigners talked a lot about democracy during the campaign. Let’s put those words into action and reform our democracy at home. Now that the big question about membership of the EU has been answered, the next step should be democratic reform of the UK – including a proportional voting system and an elected House of Lords, which Nigel Farage says should be a top priority.
“What made this referendum different to a General Election is that every vote counted – wherever you were in the country. People felt like their vote had real power – with no safe seats, electoral wastelands or tactical voting – and that seems to have fed through to a high turnout.
“The government will now be negotiating the nuts and bolts – our terms of departure, a future trade deal and how to fill the legislative and constitutional gap that will appear once we’ve fully exited the EU. The public need to have a say in the negotiations that follow this vote. These talks and decisions mustn’t be taken behind closed doors – the devil is in the detail, so they must be open for scrutiny.
“The country is still divided over this – and will be for some time to come – so big efforts will have to be made to bring the country together, and to involve voters in what could be a long process.
“Either way, we need a way to unite a fragmented country in the aftermath of this result and to involve everyone in the big constitutional changes to come.”