This week, Nigel Farage raised the possibility of a second EU referendum when he said a narrow victory for “Remain” on 23rd June would leave “unfinished business.”
He is not the first politician to imply that a second referendum might follow the initial vote. Former Conservative leader Michael Howard claimed in February that we may hold a follow-up referendum, while Boris Johnson was reported to be in favour of a “double referendum strategy”—something he later denied.
A second referendum could happen for two reasons, it is thought. One argument runs that Britain could vote to leave on 23rd June and this would send the EU into a panic. It would try to persuade us to remain in the European Union and would offer us “improved” terms, which would need to be voted on. The second scenario is a narrow win for “Remain,” which would mean anti-EU sentiment lingering post-referendum—leading to a second vote at some point in the future.
Is a second referendum feasible? Or do their proponents misunderstand how the EU operates? A panel of experts including Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, offer their views.
A pathetic comeback attempt
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats
The idea of a second EU referendum, suggested by Farage earlier this week, is not only a pathetic attempt at a comeback by a failing “Leave” campaign, it also ignores the history of these sort of referendums.
Successive independence referendums for the state of Quebec in Canada popularised the phrase “neverendum,” and eventually the independence movement collapsed. Farage and those supporting Brexit should take note: undermining the validity of a referendum and ignoring the democratic choice of British people will not make you more popular (something other nationalist parties in the country should also understand). Nor will it encourage more people to support your cause in the first instance.
The UKIP leader regularly accuses the EU of not listening to the democratic will of countries. So maybe, just maybe, he should live up to his own words for once and listen to the choice of the British people.
Not just possible but inevitable
Abigail Watson is a freelance writer for publications including Conservative Home, Left Foot Forward and Future Foreign Policy
Whatever happens on the 23rd June another referendum will follow. If we vote “Leave” the British people will rightfully demand a vote on the new UK-EU arrangements. If we vote “Remain” there will be calls to vote again whenever the EU pushes for further reform.
It will simply be impossible to end all demands for another referendum—from either side—after one vote. We must also consider a scared portion of the electorate who may be too afraid to vote “Leave” this time but who could regret their decision when problems with the EU continue. We only have to look at the Scottish referendum and the subsequent electoral success of the SNP to see how quickly those who lost and those who were afraid of change rally round the drivers of that change and call for a fresh vote. Another referendum is not only possible, it’s almost inevitable.
It’s possible—but it depends on two things
Pawel Swidlicki, Policy Analyst at Open Europe think tank
Two factors will determine whether the UK will have a second EU referendum and if so, how soon. Firstly, the margin will be crucial—a narrow defeat will keep the Brexit dream alive with Leavers hoping a popular pro-Brexit Prime Minister could swing the result the other way. Especially as many already believe the government’s backing for “Remain” means it has not been a “fair fight.” However, it is unlikely that most Leavers would want a snap rematch, not least as the public will not be keen.
Secondly, it will depend on how the EU itself evolves in the coming years. If the UK is able to build on the renegotiation to ensure the EU becomes more competitive and democratically accountable, with a clear demarcation between the single market and the Eurozone, demands for a second vote will likely be limited to irreconcilable Brexiteers. If however, the EU fails to reform substantially, pressure for a second vote could become unstoppable.
A matter of time
Richard G Whitman, Visiting Senior Fellow at Chatham House and Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe initiative
A second referendum on the UK’s relationship with the EU is inevitable. A referendum would be needed if a new non-member relationship between the UK and the EU was to leave free movement between the two largely unaltered. Domestic political pressure for another vote would be intense if the British government reached an agreement that left it without full control over immigration policy.
Even if the UK votes to remain in the EU a further deepening of EU integration would trigger another public vote. The 2011 European Union Act, passed under the Coalition government, triggers a referendum with any revision to the EU’s Treaties that affect the UK by increasing the EU powers or reducing veto areas. EU Treaty reform is a question of when, not whether. And so is another UK EU referendum.
This week’s “Big question” was put together by Alex Dean and Alice Grahns