What is wrong with referendums vol 2: Brexit
In a previous post I discussed some of the problems with referendums. Brexit referendum had it's share of issues. I'll discuss here two of these.
Restricted categories of voters
First, it violated the principle that everyone who has large stakes in the process can have a say. Two groups that are most affected by British EU membership and it's potential termination are the EU citizens living in UK, and UK citizens living on the continent. Unfortunately, these two groups had limited voting opportunites. British expats can only vote up to 15 years after leaving the UK, and Non-British EU citizens (except Irish, Maltese, and Cypriots) were excluded by a political decision. Maybe exaggerating a bit, but one may say that only those who weren't using the EU provided free movement were deciding it's fate.
In a broader sense it is a common situation: migrants usually cannot vote (despite paying taxes) in their new host countries, and often find it hard or impossible to vote in their countries of origin as well, so migration-related policies are decided by people who are not moving. This is partly because of design, insiders are keen to keep their exclusive rights, but partly due to insiders' inherently better knowledge and better networks.
No positive question
Second, the referendum asked a "negative" question—there was little indication what will happen in case "leave" wins. If "stay" had won, the answer had been simple—more of the same. But leavers had no positive program, and one can argue that leave voters may have voted for very different and incompatible ideas.
If one disregards the slight margin, one can still argue that leaving the EU was "will of the people". However, one cannot extend this claim to any particular type of Brexit, or to any particular reason, such as immigration. These claims are either based on polls or some other kind of interpretation. But polls and interpretations are just that—polls and interpretation—and not the "will of the people".
It looks like Britons have currently at least two incompatible "wills". Because of the slight margin and blurred options, the referendum gave a mandate not for leaving the EU, but to bring the UK and EU relationship back to the drawing board. This may mean leaving the EU but that should be a different decision, taken years later, and including a positive program for what will happen in that case.