I’ll start by saying that if was simply up to me, I’d keep Britain in the EU. I was a Remainer before the referendum result, and nothing has convinced me since that leaving the EU would make the country better off. However, I also remain against the idea of a second referendum on the question. Here’s why.
First off, the campaign be would much, much nastier than the first one, and given that one featured Nigel Farage in front of a billboard containing refugees that had a caption that read “Breaking Point”, that is truly saying something. Having been through the last year and a half and counting since the referendum result, Remain and Leave, which were nominal positions before 2016 amongst most normal people, have hardened into the sides of an all-out culture war. I think all that exploding out into a winner takes all situation would be extremely harmful to the British body politic, which is already suffering badly anyhow.
Secondly, whatever side won, we’d be in a world of trouble. If Remain won, it would feel to many people like an establishment stitch up, a case of asking the question again and again until the public gives you the right answer. As a result, anti-establishment might rage out of control. Farage often likes to say that if Brexit isn’t enacted in some definitive way the masses will riot. I think he is overestimating people’s attachment to the specifics of Brexit a great deal, but I can imagine real trouble if Remain won a second referendum, unfortunately. Particularly as a certain section of Remainers would be unbearably smug about this victory – and another would start talking about how a victory for Remain was a victory for European federalism coming to the UK. The vote to Remain was a vote to join the Euro, didn’t you know? Imagine how much that will help an already bad situation.
If Leave won, that would be taken as a mandate for the hardest Brexit imaginable. In fact, it would be totally unavoidable after a second Leave win, no matter how little logical sense it made. Therefore, I cannot see any good that can come from a second EU referendum. Perhaps time will prove me wrong on this one. If we do end up with a second referendum, I really hope that I am.
I know how you are feeling out there Remainers. You feel like the country is drifting in a direction you don’t like and you want to do anything you can to stop it. You want to erase the last nineteen months of politics in this country. I get it, I really do. But a second referendum isn’t going to fix that. It would probably make it all very much worse.
Toby Fenwick says
Nick- sorry, a Referendum on the outcome is the only way to fix this.
Andrew Tampion says
Please define what you mean by “fix”. Surely the better choice of word woulds be “resolve”.
David Evans says
Nick to stop Brexit would require the erasing of the last eight years of politics to listen to people like David Rendel and stop Nick sacrificing our party’s and our country’s future to support David Cameron. The Lib Dems are as near to a busted flush as it is possible to be when it comes to political power and influence, however right we may be on so many issues.
The question your article doesn’t offer any guidance on is how do we stop Brexit and turn the country and the party around without a referendum?
Paul W says
I agree with you Nick about the impact a second referendum would have on the voters’ already dented confidence in the British political system. It would be deeply damaging whatever the result. In any case, such a second referendum would be the outcome of Establishment political manipulation dressed up as democracy: ‘Keep voting until you give us the approved answer.’ It would indeed be a political ‘fix’; one of ‘managed democracy’ as it’s termed when applied to the Kremlin – only in this case Westminster-style.
That’s why I doubt whether the Conservative and Labour parties would facilitate another referendum. It would inflame all sorts of divisions and diversions, (not least the all-out culture war you mention), within both parties and in the country at large on issues they would prefer to keep well under wraps.
Andrew Tampion says
I think Nicks approach is correct. I believe that the adverse effect on our democracy of what would be perceived by many, including some remain voters, of an attempt to overturn a democratic decision would be worse than the effects of the worst possible “hard” Brexit.
Two further objections to a referendum on the deal.
One. There is no democratic mandate. The 2016 referendum was legitimized by the Conservatives 2015 manifesto. In the 2017 election parties supporting a referendum on the deal, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens lost vote share whereas parties opposed to such a referendum, the Conservatives and Labour gained vote share., Had the Referendum Act provided for a confirmatory referendum then that would be different: but it didn’t.
Second. Before such a referendum could be held we would need clarity on the terms that we would stay in the EU on. There is a widespread assumption that this would be the same as before or possibly the terms negotiated by David Cameron. But unless this is confirmed by the EU 27 before a referendumk was held there is no certainty. Consider what the siuation would be if we voted by whatever margin to stay in and then were told by the EU that we had to adopt the Euro or join Schengen?
Leclercq Christophe says
“When you are in a hole, stop digging”.
A second referendum would be:
a) be a ladder out of this fast-deepening trap
b) be in line with ‘taking control back’
c) be legitimate, as the likely terms of exit would then be known to the electorate
d) if won by Remainers, help regain goodwill from continentals
e) if not, leave no regrets.
O. Sykes says
I think this is a way off-beam article sorry… Take this passage.
” As a result, anti-establishment might rage out of control. Farage often likes to say that if Brexit isn’t enacted in some definitive way the masses will riot. I think he is overestimating people’s attachment to the specifics of Brexit a great deal, but I can imagine real trouble if Remain won a second referendum, unfortunately.”
This is contradictory. Nick is correct the first time to say Farage us “overestimating people’s attachment to the specifics of Brexit” but then says he can “imagine real trouble if Remain won a second referendum”. What does he mean by real trouble? When? Where? Even if this was written last year these predictions are all very doubtful. Trouble from whom? The small number of ‘shouty’ people remainers see on the streets when out campaigning? What are they going to do? Are we bowing to threats of unrest now?? But the clue is in the line “I imagine”. Nick imagines but has he any evidence for this statement?
Then take this passage:
“Particularly as a certain section of Remainers would be unbearably smug about this victory – and another would start talking about how a victory for Remain was a victory for European federalism coming to the UK. The vote to Remain was a vote to join the Euro, didn’t you know? Imagine how much that will help an already bad situation.”
Again crystal ball stuff. On what evidence does Nick say Remainers would be “unbearably smug” if they won a victory? I very much doubt it. They will be relieved. Saddened too at the harm wrought by the whole sorry business of almost leaving the EU… Not smug. And it is bizarre to argue a large body of remainers would interpret a vote remain as some kind of mandate for enhance federalism in the EU project. Again, relief and the wish to start rebuilding what we had and cherished before it was harmed by Cameron’s folly would be more likely responses.
Also the article asserts points and makes statements which are both vague and unevidenced.
I don’t know the author but this seems exactly the kind of inward focussed politico stuff we don’t need now. This reads like it was written by someone who has never met may leave voters and only hangs-out with a certain type of (minority) remainer from firmly withing the sphere of professional politicians and their watchers.
While I am sure there are a lot of Remainers who would be relived, the loudest remain voices are those who are convinced that the Leave vote was driven by racism, xenophobia, and all sorts of other nastiness.
So you may be correct about the majority of Remainers: but it only takes a few loud ones to crow about how finally the racists have been put back in their box, and now they need to get with the programme, get on the right side of history, and accept internationalist liberal values, and we’d be in exactly the position the esteemed host imagines.