I am puzzled by the resistance of many Brexit supporters to a second referendum. Surely this seems sensible. Let’s look at the facts.
In 2016 voters in Britain decided (narrowly) to support the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The Prime Minister and his government were charged with obtaining the best deal possible for the UK and the deal would then be put before Parliament for ratification. In principle, it all sounds straightforward. But as we now know, the truth is very different.
Firstly the Prime Minister who instigated the referendum fell on his sword on declaration of the result. Being committed to remaining in Europe, he felt it was inappropriate for him to lead our exit. So a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, was appointed – one who, although a remainer, was less squeamish about driving through legislation in which she did not believe. Some 20 months later, she has negotiated a deal from the European Union and is ready to put it before Parliament. Parliament is a little less than enthusiastic about the deal on offer and is disinclined to ratify it.
Astonishingly, nobody has bargained for this. The process, as outlined in 2016, doesn’t account for the possibility that it might not get through Parliament. The vote to leave the EU seems to have been predicated on some rose tinted view of Britain seated somewhere in the 1950s where we could delude ourselves that we still had an empire and were still a proud island race.
We seem to have been caught completely unawares by the EU’s attitude to our leaving. We seem surprised that the EU should wish to make the process unpleasant. I think many who voted to leave in 2016 thought it would be plain sailing and that we would dictate our terms to the EU. After all we were the ones leaving.
From the EU’s position it is very different. Obviously they wish to impose as punitive an agreement as they can, if only to discourage other states entertaining such frivolous notions. It is hardly in their interest to be accommodating to our needs. After all, on purely economic grounds alone, the EU needs trade with us much less than we do with them. So we are faced with a “deal” from the EU which is clearly unpalatable to the UK Parliament. The EU has declined to negotiate further and so we are at an impasse, waiting to see who will blink first.
How do we break this deadlock?
Firstly it’s obvious that Mrs May threatening the EU with a “no deal” Brexit will not work. That’s truly a case of cutting off our nose to spite our face. The EU face can survive the loss of a British nose easily. The UK cannot. A budgetary blip in the EU amounts to an economic apocalypse in the UK. So we need creative thinking.
We need to find out what people think. And what better way to do that than through a referendum.
I hear you groan. And I hear the leave camp dragging out that tired old argument about the people’s will. Sure, the people’s will in 2016 is well known. But this is 2018, shortly to be 2019. People change their minds. Many who voted to leave in 2016 were naive about what departure from the EU would mean in practical terms. They are rather like a jury who, having reached a decision, will not allow a retrial in the face of new evidence.
In 2016 people voted on the basis of misinformation, misplaced nationalism and a desire to bloody the government. It became a by-election on the government’s record rather than a rational considered response to the future of this country.
Two years later many say they would have voted differently. So let’s have no more about this being “the will of the people”. It may have been then but it probably isn’t now. And if we believe the will of the people to be sacrosanct, we should test it again now that we know exactly what leaving the EU will mean.
If a second referendum also comes out in favour of leaving, then this will be a validation of their views. If on the other hand, the 2016 results is overturned, we should be glad that we tested the will of the people once more.
This is much too weighty a matter to leave in the hands of politicians.
“The will of the people”