A second EU referendum would bring a couple of months of hell—but Brexit would be incalculably worseby Jonathan Lis / January 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
If the arguments of deluded Brexiters ever seem repetitive or predictable, at least Nigel Farage is able to spring the occasional surprise. When he declared yesterday, to the delight of Remainers across the country, that “maybe we should have a second referendum on EU membership,” he also let one of the most vexed cats out of the Brexit bag: a viable way of stopping it.
Numerous commentators have speculated about Farage’s motivations. He has since muddied the water by suggesting that Brexiters should prepare for a referendum but not actively seek one. His thesis that a second referendum could emphatically consolidate the 2016 result, settling the question for a generation or more, is plausible. But the headline here is that the prospect of a second referendum—for so long a niche cause among national politicians if not Remain campaigners—has found its first champion on the other side of the argument. Indeed, not just any champion, but the toxic patron saint of the entire Brexit movement.
To gauge the significance, we can simply review the last 18 months of political discourse. Any political opposition to Brexit has been couched in the obligatory language of “respecting the referendum result” or “the will of the people”; failure to do so has invited full-throated tabloid denunciations as an anti-democrat or traitor. Following through on Brexit has become an unchallengeable orthodoxy amongst all but a minority of Remain MPs.
With or without Farage’s tacit endorsement, the narrative around a new referendum has been laden with poison. Last month the prime minister herself delivered the Orwellian judgement to the Commons that a new vote “would be betraying the people,” as though the people might somehow betray themselves. A referendum carries political difficulties but is demonstrably not illegitimate or undemocratic. Democracies permit citizens to weigh up facts, evaluate altered circumstances, reaffirm initial decisions and, yes, change minds; it is the reason elections are held more than once every generation. Voters are perfectly entitled to compare the promises of Brexit from the halcyon days of the £350m-a-week NHS bonanza and near-instant global trade deals with the reality of joblessness, isolation and decline which awaits today.