Revoke Article 50. Have a second referendum. Remain win. We forget this whole Brexit thing and things go back to normal.
One of the frequent complaints of remainers is that Brexiteers made brexit sound just too simple. It seems to me remainers are now very much in the same position.
To the simple formula posed in the opening paragraph, I have often asked: “Then what?” to which there is usually a blank stare followed by a response of “Well…we stay in the EU?”
Yes, and then what? We just pretend the last 3 years never happened? How detached from reality do you have to be to think that’s remotely realistic?
I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. Brexiteers are often accused of not having a plan for brexit, but I’ve yet to hear any remainer express a plan for remaining in the EU that acknowledges any political realities of overturning the 2016 referendum result without enacting it.
Remainers might not like this, but just like they did not consider the 2016 referendum to be the final word on Brexit, if there is a second referendum that “remain” wins then Brexiteers will not consider that the final word either.
But they won’t be calling for a third referendum.
What will happen is this: In the mind of brexiteers, a mandate for leaving has been established by the the 2016 referendum and their narrative will be that the 2019 referendum is invalid.
The argument for a 2019 “remain” referendum overturning the 2016 result would be chronological -it comes after the 2016 one and therefore is a greater mandate, but surely that is not the only valid criteria for saying that a mandate is valid?
A very simple problem would be if the turnout for a second referendum is markedly lower than the first referendum. This would be a good argument for saying the mandate of the 2016 poll remained a stronger mandate
Even if the turn out is reasonable, there will very likely be a strong quibble over whether the question on the ballot paper is fair and gives leave a fair chance.
If the question is formulated differently to in 2016 – well, that’s obviously going to be a source of argument. Not least the fact that if the question is different then the 2019 referendum result cannot logically overturn the 2016 one since it is on a different question.
It’s then not a re-run referendum but a different referendum. If the second referendum involves a complex three way vote ,or only a vote on a certain form of Brexit, it will be an interesting opinion poll, but inferior as a fundamental democratic test to the 2016 referendum. On the pure, simple, question “Should Britain Leave or Remain in the EU?” the 2016 referendum would remain the gold standard benchmark.
Alternatively, If the question is formulated exactly the same – then it’s surely a valid point of view that being asked the exact same question twice amounts to bullying the electorate into giving the answer you want.
The key defence of the second referendum would be that it is more recent. However, with the passing of time, that argument would become less and less persuasive. If we are still arguing about Brexit in, say, 2028 the question “Do you support the 2016 result or the 2019 referendum result?” will consider the 3 year time gap to be almost entirely arbitrary.
Now you can have your own opinion on what would make a second referendum result more or less valid than the first one, but here’s the point:
Referendums, as remainers are so keen to point out, are “only advisory“.
Once two referendum results exist: one from 2016 backing leave and one from 2019 backing remain. (I’m assuming for the sake of being charitable to remainers that remain is on the ballot paper and remain wins) then all we are saying is that referendums have failed to resolve this issue.
Which means the issue will instead be resolved by general election.
Brexit supporting parties like UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party, and potentially the Tory party if it ever got a proper Brexiteer leader, would not put in their manifesto a pledge to hold a third referendum.
Instead, they would put in their manifestos a pledge to simply enact the 2016 referendum and declare the 2019 referendum null and void.
Before we consider the political consequences of that, let’s consider the nature of political identity in the UK for a moment:
Ten years ago, if you asked someone to give you one word or phrase to describe their political views they would probably say “I’m a Tory” or “I’m a Labour voter” or “I’m left wing” or “I’m right wing”.
Something has happened to politics in our country however. Now, the most meaningful simple answer that any one can give to that question, the one defining characteristic which tells you something useful about someone’s politics, is whether they are a “Remainer” or a “Brexiteer”.
And notice that from the answer to that question, you can tell a lot more about a person than just their view on the UK’s membership of the EU. They have become political stereotypes.
We are told how “divided” the country now is is. Well, that’s the glass half empty way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is that, the people of this nation have found political identities which they really care about and have coalesced around. People who are remainers are far more passionate about being remainers than they are about being Tories, or being Labour supporters. the same is true of Brexiteers in reverse. Being a Brexiteer is significantly more important to them than being a Tory or a Labour voter.
Remainer/Brexiteer is the new political divide in our nation. It’s more meaningful and descriptive of the political narrative of Britain in 2019 than talking about Left/Right or Tory/Labour.
You won’t kill that off now with a second referendum. In fact it will be even more entrenched.
The ultimate result can surely only be that the political parties divide along brexit/remain lines eventually.
It’s arguable that the whole problem of parliament has been the fact that the Brexit/remain divide does not neatly sit on opposite sides of the House of Commons and that is why consensus cannot be reached.
It may take several more reshuffles or elections, it may take the splitting of the Conservative party even, or it may mean the rise of new political parties altogether, but if remain win a second referendum, the only logical political divide for the political parties of the future in the UK is going to be along Brexit/remain lines…because that is the meaningful divide in the country as a whole. That is the choice that people are going to want to be able to express at the ballot box.
I for one, will never in my life vote for any party which has abandoned Brexit in its manifesto, whether there is a second referendum or not. And even if only half of the 17.4m people who voted leave feel the same way that’s enough votes to form a party of official opposition, or even government. Sooner or later that pool of votes will fall to the last party standing which supports Brexit.
Eventually, parties have to appeal to some kind of cohesive electorate to which they can speak a coherent message, and I just don’t believe that is now possible across the brexiteer/remain divide when that is now how millions of people now primarily identify their politics.
At some point parliamentary parties are going to have to reflect that. They will have to become either “Remain parties” or “Brexit” parties.
Once that becomes established, however it become established, we will end up with two political parties on opposite sides of the House of Commons, one with a fundamental party commitment to leave the EU, and the other to remain or rejoin it.
Neither will see any value in a further referendum as mandate for this.
Which then means every single General Election will become a proxy EU referendum.
What that means is the long term destiny of the UK being in or out the EU will never be known more than five years ahead.
This would be absurd and massively destructive to the UK. Long term investment needs more than a 5 year promise of stability to occur.
This is why a solution to brexit must be found. It must be a solution whereby the UK leaves the EU, thus honouring the 2016 referendum, but the concerns of remainers are sufficiently addressed for them not to constantly fight for us to rejoin and thus perpetuate the Leave/remain divide.
The solution was, and is, and will continue to be EFTA/EEA. The big brexiteer concession would be on freedom of movement of people. That is a big concession, but, in return, we get happy remainers who basically get to retain everything they love about the EU in practical terms (The four freedoms), and brexiteers can be happy that A) we can make independent trade deals b) we have our fishing waters and agricultural policy back C) we have supremacy of UK law on domestic policy d) We have blue passports.
To achieve this: two things need to happen:
Brexiteers need to stop living in fantasy land. You have to work out what you are willing to compromise on. You cannot drag 48% of the country kicking and screaming and dragging their heels into any kind of bright future. The thing that needs to give way is freedom of movement. Some leeway on that opens up all sorts of possibilities. The thing that must not be given away is the right to be out of the Customs Union for that is economic enslavement to the EU.
Remainers need to stop living in fantasy land. You have to recognise that any future reality in which the UK is perpetually in the EU following the 2016 referendum result is toxic and will re-define British Politics along remain/Leave lines forever. Is that really what you want? Don’t you want this to all be over and reach a settlement? There is no possible version of the future in which you wake up and the 2016 referendum result is just a bad dream, and a 2019 re-run will not achieve that.
Ironically, nothing will perpetuate the Brexit-limbo more in the long run than remain winning a second referendum.