12 Apr 2017

Brexit Referendum Lacked Preparation

The UK Government didn’t meet its “constitutional and public obligation to prepare for both outcomes from the referendum” and hasn’t learned the lesson from 1975’s referendum, concludes a critical report, prepared by the Public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC).

The Government didn’t do Its Homework

The report was published on the official Parliament page this morning. According to the committee’s MPs, David Cameron’s Government should have had a more adequate plan for what comes after the vote. They referred to the previous referendum in 1975 where the British citizens were asked if the UK should stay in the European Community (the Common Market). Back then the votes were 67% to 33% in preference of EU membership, but nevertheless the Government then, led by Harold Wilson, prepared a plan for a “possible vote in favour of withdrawal from the European Community”. A plan which the sitting Government in 2015 lacked. Additionally, the PACAC members criticised David Cameron for resigning instead of taking responsibility “for the referendum result in either eventuality”. As a consequence, “the EU referendum opened up much new controversy and left the Prime Minister’s credibility destroyed” the MPs concluded.

Brexit Website May Had Been Under Hacker’s Attack

Another interesting point in the report is tackling the possibility of international interference with the Brexit vote. The committee takes into consideration the crush of the Register to Vote website on 7th June 2016. According to Government officials, the reason for the crash “was due to an exceptional surge in demand, partly due to confusion as to whether individuals needed to register to vote”, but rumours for an alleged hacker attack emerged soon after. PACAC’s report states that “possibility that there was foreign interference in the EU referendum caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service attack)” is not ruled out although. However, the MPs “do not believe that any such interference had any material effect on the outcome of the EU referendum” and point out that lessons from such accidents should go beyond technical. “The US and UK’s understanding of ‘cyber’ is predominantly technical and computer-network based, while Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals. We commend the Government for promoting cyber security as a major issue for the UK,” PACAC advised.

£9,3 million leaflet – total loss of money

The third major point in the 87-pages report tackles the £9,3 million spent to prepare pro-EU leaflets. Even when issued and sent over to people’s homes the leaflet was taken controversially. The PACAC members point that the presentation of the paper and the decision to spent the money on it “were inappropriate and counterproductive for the Government.” They said that according to a poll taken by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), just after the leaflet publication, the Government lost 2% of its credibility as a source of information on Brexit.

Brexit – The Point of no Return

The vote on 23rd June 2016 was the 12th referendum for the UK citizens since 1973 and the second one on the topic of EU membership. PACAC committee criticised the Government for not being prepared to take responsibility for the outcome and probably decided on the referendum too soon. The report points out that Brexit could be a “case of what might be called a “bluff call” referendum in order to close down unwelcome debate”. According the MPs, there were also numerous mistakes in the way people were informed, and also a lot of controversy in the civil services.  “While it is perfectly legitimate for the Prime Minister and government to take an official position during a referendum campaign, the fairness, and legitimacy, of a referendum rests on a careful and restrained use of the machinery of government. Unfortunately, many of the Government’s actions in the run-up to the referendum appear to have increased public distrust,” the report says.

PACAC is appointed by the House of Commons and currently there are eight members of the Conservative party, four from the Labour party and one member of the Scottish National Party. PACAC was established to replace the existing Public Administration Select Committee, which between 2010 and 2015 had been selected to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.


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