Ann Coffey

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Stockport Express Column September 2019

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Strong feelings about our membership of the European Union have split our country down the middle.

I have always made it clear that I think leaving the EU is a bad idea and have voted in the House of Commons in accordance with that belief.

We had a referendum in 2016 and the result of that was a majority voted to leave nationally.
In our democracy we think that the will of the majority should prevail. That is straightforward and usually the minority who lose accept that.

But what happens when the issue is so important to the minority that they don’t accept the result? That is the situation we are facing now with years of division and recrimination whatever the outcome of the Prime Minister’s decisions.

If we are to keep our once much envied democracy then we have to find a better way of resolving divisive issues rather than a harsh ‘winner-takes-all’ system.

In Ireland in 2016 a Citizens Assembly was convened to look at a number of issues including abortion, a very contentious issue. No politicians took part. A report was produced and in 2018 the country voted in a referendum to liberalise abortion laws. The decision was accepted.

If we are going to continue to have decisions by referendum then we have to have a better process. That may include using Citizens Assemblies who would not be motivated by narrow party political intrusts.

This referendum has undermined further trust in our democratic institutions and our political system. That is difficult to restore.

We are all paying a high price for a referendum that was supposed to finally resolve our relationship with Europe.