What relationship does it have to democracy to claim that the outcome of a referendum, such as Brexit, must be carried through come what may?
Consider this: in a representative democracy, elections decide who represents the people. These representatives contest elections, citing positions of policy on various issues, but by no means on every one that might arise in the course of government. Moreover, once the election is over, the Parliament or Congress decides the what and how of policies to enact, drawing on advice from people who have examined the details and evolving circumstances.
If the electorate believes that the representatives have misled them–that the policies enacted do not match the campaign promises and claims–they may take that into account when they next vote. But they may also recognize that circumstances have changed since the time of the election. In this system of representative democracy, a referendum provides a focused piece of information about the electorate as well as one benchmark for future campaigns to invoke. Thus my question.
Of course, if there were a constitutional provision that the referendum must be implemented exactly as stated, then that would mean that the representative democracy can be overruled by referenda. But that provision would also mean that any referendum would need to consist of very detailed text to spell out exactly what the policy to be implemented is. That constitutional structure does not exist in the case of the United Kingdom. Nor did the text provide the details needed to set how to pursue each of the negotiation items for exit from the EU.
So we are back to the democratic representatives, who were elected—the most recent election was more recent than the referendum–to consider the details of what implementing the result of referendum entails and decide how—or whether—to implement the referendum. Or whether to hold another referendum to get focused input on the options that have emerged, say: Do you approve of Brexit carried out under the conditions that have emerged from negotiations, want no Brexit at all, or want Brexit postponed until your representatives can negotiate new conditions to bring to a new referendum? The democratic representatives make their decisions taking into account the possible consequences in the next election given the picture that electorate is learning regarding what implementing the result of the original referendum would entail.
There is a more important meta-question however. How has the referendum been discursively constructed so as to take away the power of representative democracy–all in the name of it being the democratic decision of “the people”? My sense is that the fervor behind the latter is like that in the USA of proponents of unfettered access to all kinds of guns. They are quite happy to invoke the Second Amendment as if that trumps all other aspects of democratic governance, most notably, the almost 2 centuries of Supreme Court decisions based on the founding documents—the constitution and the Bill of Rights—that allowed for limitations of gun ownership (and even still do today in the 2008 ruling).