Some have commented that Farage only wants a second referendum in order to be back in the national spotlight again. While that may well be amongst the reasons he has introduced this idea into the debate – that Brexiteers, even of Farage-grade, can be second referendum cheerleaders – I think you actually have to give Farage more points for political nous. I believe he saw something, as usual, before most of his Brexiteer clan had managed to.
Farage probably spotted what most Leavers can see, but flinch from: that the UK government’s negotiations around leaving the EU are not going quite as they had hoped or imagined. Some of them still think that at the next stage of negotiations we may see more splits amongst the EU27, but most Brexiteers are much more realistic about things now. It’ll probably look something a lot like staying in both the Single Market and the Customs Union, only with no say in how those units evolve in future. For some, this is perfectly fine: Brexit was always a totemistic thing, more about an abstract idea of national sovereignty. For others, like Farage, that represents the worst of all worlds. Although they would never, ever say this, even to themselves, this might well represent something even worst than membership of the European Union. To have to follow everything the EU does in pursuit of “no regulatory divergence”, like some formerly war torn Balkans nation desperate for EU membership one sunny day, all while being outside the room – it makes sense why this would be seen by some Brexiteers as less than ideal.
No, Farage doesn’t think a second referendum might not be the worst idea in the universe because he secretly now doesn’t want to leave. He would never think that. Rather, the fear is that if the May government continues towards the deal it looks as if it is going to get, this might well re-open the debate in a way that would be horrible for committed Leavers. If Brexit turns out to be, well, really lame, the clamour to re-join might get significant political traction. If we re-join the EU in ten years time, even fifteen, what was the point in leaving? If we re-join, the likelihood of leaving again becomes pretty slim. Added to that, it might very well be that we would re-join without the bells and whistles, namely the rebate and keeping out of the Euro. Not that any of this is highly likely, yes, but Farage can see that it becomes possible.
This is how a second referendum starts to feel like the least bad option to the Brexiteer. A double Brexit victory makes a no deal type of thing start to feel absolutely necessary. Of course, what Farage and co haven’t worked out is that if this is a disaster, then the desire to re-join might be even greater. Life on the Brexit edge.