A Second Referendum on ‘Brexit’ is Inevitable

I think it highly unlikely the UK will leave the EU. I believe there will be a second referendum, won by those who vote to remain. Indeed, I think it inevitable and necessary.

Consider the timetable. Article 50 is invoked, I would guess between early September when a new Conservative leader is likely to be established and year’s end. However, that is only the beginning of the end.

At that point, the UK remains in the EU for the duration of negotiations for a withdrawal agreement. Theoretically this should be accomplished within two years, but the reality of EU law is that the two-year mark is only there for the EU to dump the UK if it feels negotiations are becoming too protracted. The UK can agree to withdraw before that two years is up if satisfied with what it has negotiated. Alternatively, the two-year limit can be extended if both parties agree further negotiation is needed.

Bearing in mind that we voted blind for Brexit – no one can have a clue what it will look like at this stage – then if there was ever an argument for a referendum on things such as the Lisbon Treaty there’s still more of an argument for the British people to approve – or disapprove – of an agreement which removes us from the EU altogether when we know what it looks like. Whatever it looks like, it’s going to take the nation in as radically a different direction as joining the EU in the first place.

I would suggest a three-way referendum. i), take the agreement as it stands. ii), renegotiate the agreement. iii), forget it, stay in the EU. A two-way vote would be confusing. If the choice were between merely accepting or declining the agreement and declining won, how would that be interpreted? A vote for agreement change, or a vote for ‘in’? We would enter into an endless cycle. Agreement not accepted, renegotiation, agreement not accepted given that at least 48% of the electorate would go for non-acceptance whatever the agreement reads.

To be fair, option three would have to outweigh the votes of options one and two combined. Both those options are, after all, a vote for Brexit. However, it seems likely that a re-run of the referendum even a few days after it was held would have led to a reversal as the “Oh my God, what have we done?” factor kicked in and people started to realise the bunny-rabbits-and-rainbows vision of Brexit wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and the Brexit camp were reneging on promises as soon as rewarded for making them.

Strictly speaking, if the UK wants to stay in it should invoke Article 49 and begin the application procedure all over again, but that would cause a bit of a mess. Britain can’t actually leave until it has negotiated and accepted a withdrawal agreement, and if it doesn’t want to withdraw then how is it supposed to negotiate that? A little legal dancing, however, and I guess Article 50 would suddenly become reversible to the benefit of both parties.

More and more people are talking about dodgy ways to just ignore the result of the referendum we’ve just had. I disagree with them. It’s a democratic mandate, and to ignore it – however reasonably in this instance – would set a very dangerous precedent. However, I cannot see how the Brexit camp can reasonably deny the British people a vote on the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it would be to undermine many of their ‘democratic’ arguments were such a referendum to be denied.

All this being the case, and it seems to me the most likely scenario moving forwards, the next two years will prove to be damaging certainly with our reaffirmation of membership coming with the nation bruised by the battering of years of uncertainty but, nonetheless, Britain will remain in the EU.

8 thoughts on “A Second Referendum on ‘Brexit’ is Inevitable

  1. These certainly are confusing times. The Tory’s leadership battle and the infighting in Labour means we have little idea what direction they want to take the country in. From the little I’ve read, Leadsom appear to have Thatcher’s ideology without Thatcher’s attention to detail (someone also said ‘without Thatcher’s self doubt’, as well) and while May is dislikeable she is, apparently, pragmatic and God knows we could do with pragmatism.

    Corbyn seems to be a genuinely decent man and I approve of much he says, though he is lukewarm on Europe and anti Scottish independence, both of which are big negatives for me. I don’t necessarily think he should be pro Scottish independence, but I believe it is solely a matter for Scots to decide. Corbyn’s failing is he isn’t enough of a leader.

    It’s also not clear what the population wants, at least not outside my own circle of friends who are mostly left-leaning Europhiles. Yes, 52% voted to leave the EU, but those 52% have a variety of reasons for leaving: some reasonable, some noble-if misguided-, and some utterly appalling. Equally, the 48% include those who wish to be part of the EU on principle, those who wish to be part of it because they see no choice, those who have personal reasons for remaining in the EU, and those who see the EU as a necessary check on power in Westminster.

    It’s also apparent that some of those voting out of the EU did so for reasons that have nothing to do with the EU and which will not be changed by leaving the EU. In part, that’s down to the failure of both the Breamain and Brexit campaigns to spell out what will happen as a consequence of the vote.

    I suspect that the UK would be happy to be part of the EEA and EFTA. Then, we still have free trade with Europe (including the free movement of people) and we still pay the EU for the privilege of having free trade with them – perhaps paying rather more than we pay at the moment. Leaving the EU and joining the EEA/EFTA will not be painless and won’t stop immigration from EU countries. It would also mean giving up any influence over the direction of the EU.

    However, it would come with two advantages which I can imagine are appealing to the UK:
    1. Currently, the EEA/EFTA members are Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Were the UK to join that group it would immediately be by far the biggest player in that group.
    2. The EU would immediately be framed as the necessary evil; something we can’t avoid and have no influence over and so must simply endure. Brits are very good at stoically dealing with things they can’t avoid and traditionally bad at dealing with allies.

    So, perversely, giving up our influence on the EU, paying more into it the EU than we do as a member, and still having to accept EU rules on the free movement of people (my own priority) may actually suit the UK better than being in the EU and constantly complaining about it.

    It’s idiotic, but there you go.

    • Leadsom comes across as downright dishonest. First opting for Brexit only a few years after saying that leaving the EU would be madness, not apparently changing her mind on that until she saw how the cannons and opportunity aligned itself in the run-up to the referendum itself, and now with overstatement on her CV to make herself out to be greater than she is. Though May seems an unknown quantity, perhaps better the potential devil you don’t know than the one proven.

      The Labour party is an utter farce now. I don’t give a damn that Corbyn finds himself out of step with 172 individuals even if they are MPs. They’re as nothing compared with the electorate itself and besides, they were selected – most of them – on the basis of being ‘New Labour’ types with such things as ‘Do you approve of Trident?’ being questions at the selection stage. The last poll I saw had 49% of the electorate supporting getting rid of Trident one way or another, but the Indie that commissioned the poll merely observed that the majority rejected Corbyn’s viewpoint. Given that 50% is well within the margin of error of such a poll, and given that no other major party has come out for Trident’s abolition, Corbyn has a clear run with that one if only the PLP would run with him instead of treating his attitude as that of a lunatic. No wonder Labour is doing as poorly as they are in the polls. The miracle is that they’re not doing worse which can only leave us wondering how well they’d be doing if the PLP would just get behind its leader instead of forever briefing against him.

      As for what the electorate wants, I’m reminded of one of my favourite lines from Vivian Stanshall’s immortal Sir Henry at Rawlinson End which, if you’ve never heard the album, (forget the film), is worth locating. “I don’t know what I want, but I want it now.” We seem to be a bit slow on the uptake in realising what it is that we want. Systemic overhaul. When we do realise it we’ll follow everyone else in the western world in clearly dividing between those who think ‘systemic overhaul’ means backtracking on neoliberal economic policies, and those who think drastic action is required against immigrants. And probably single mothers, the unemployed, etc.

      I’m not so sure about your free movement of people as a necessary evil idea. We may not have reached the level of other western nations in the clear-cut divide yet, but the referendum is likely to accelerate the progress of that. As it does so, immigrants will be one of the primary causes of the hardcore Brexiteers. Those same people seem convinced that the UK alone would be unshackled from EU regulations including the tariffs the EU imposes upon the rest of the world which means, as far as I can tell, that these people actually think we will leave the European free trade area only to enter a free trade area vastly larger. And yes, I’ve even heard that idea supported in Mensa forums, so this is not a perception restricted to those lacking in the ability to reason their way out of a paper bag. I guess that was another Brexiteer lie doing the rounds in the run-up to the referendum that was swallowed whole.

  2. Ah, certainly didn’t intend implying free movement of people is a necessary evil. Far from it as I believe it is a vital and good thing. Those who espouse free trade in goods while denying the free movement of people are simply immoral, imo.

    And yes, people want radical change but are completely and irreconcilably divided on what that change should be.

    As for free trade in goods, you may not have wandered a UK supermarket or grocer’s stall recently but without Europe our diet would be impoverished. I wrote this on Fb a few days ago. It doesn’t include vast amounts of fruit and salad veg.

    “I’ve seen a few people saying that if we leave the EU we can renew our trading links with the Commonwealth and all will be well. I thought about this and made a list.
    Courvoisier, Roquefort, champagne, vichyssoise, grappa, feta cheese, moussaka, stuffed vine leaves, Tokaj, goulash, chorizo, amontillado, port, manchego, tapas, linguine, Parma ham, calamari, Riesling, pumpernickel, schnapps, bratwurst, Wiener Schnitzel, apfelstrudel, Leerdammer, Grolsch, Limburger, moules et frites, Stella Artois, aquavit, smörgåsbord, gravlax, pickled herring, vodka, nougat, coq au vin.
    Castlemaine XXXX, shrimp barbie, bananas, maple syrup, jerk chicken, voodoo, and the fucking kiwi fruit.”

    • I would never have thought you’d classify the free movement of people as a necessary evil, Colin, I must have phrased my response poorly.

      As for the irreconcilable differences on what change is necessary, it seems the division is starting to match that in the USA. Those who never swallowed the propaganda who want change by attacking abuse directly, and those who swallowed the propaganda and want to attack the scapegoats.

      That’s a pretty stunning list. You should publish that somewhere for wider dissemination, perhaps a letter to one of the newspapers. It really hits it home.

  3. It will be interesting to see if there is a valid and credible push for another referendum. I was in England during the month of June and early July, so woke up to the shocking news that the ‘Leave’ side had won. However, polls done almost immediately – after the sudden exit of Boris J. from the scene, and the back-pedaling of the “leave’ forces on immigration – showed that 5% who voted leave would have voted to remain if they had known what they now know; that is, that the leave campaign was sensationalist, empty rhetoric at best, and outright lies in some cases. The day after the vote, a desperate attempt was made to petition the government to have a second referendum, based on the fact that lies had been the currency of the first. In that day, 1.5 million people signed. Not that it had any effect; the notion of “have another referendum because we don’t like the results of this one” would not play well with the millions who still support the leave decision. Nigel Farage and Boris played to the lowest intellectual and ethical level of UK society, and now, having won, but made a dog’s breakfast in the aftermath, have left politics, reneging on any notion of responsibility. Britain will be in a terrible mess for a long time – and they were in a mess before the vote. Scapegoating immigrants works for Trump, and seems to play well in the UK also – while immigrants working in the UK are the backbone of the NHS and are contributing strongly to the UK economy and its social fabric. All in all, this referendum was a cock up: a duplicitous, opportunist narrative on the “Leave’ side and a half-hearted “Stay in, stay safe” narrative from Cameron and such as Corbyn. I expect you know, but it bears re-telling, that when Corbyn was asked during the campaign how strongly he was committed to the ‘remain’ side, he said, “about 75%.” I don’t think that will do him any good in his fight to remain head of Labour. All in all, the country is deeply torn, between those who hate Cameron, fear immigrants and believe Brussels makes all the decisions, and those on the other side who, although many of them also cannot abide Cameron, at least have done some thinking beyond “What has Brussels ever done for me?” and its foregone, negative conclusion. I don’t see this divisive dynamic representing any kind of breeding ground for a second referendum. It is quite shocking how polarized the country has become – and the country, from the dazed individual to the media to the politicians, have no clue how to fix this mess. Scotland may try to veto the result – or may have given up on that option already (I’m not clear on that now, having returned to Canada just recently). The EU will continue to press for the UK’s quick invocation of Article 50; Britain will continue to prevaricate and dissemble, hoping for (unwarranted) special status as an independent entity still dependent on their trade with the EU. Eventually, the UK will concoct enough band-aid solutions to mollify or hoodwink both the EU and its own populace, and will blunder their way forward (I use the term purely in a chronological sense) while trying to avoid an election and presenting the illusion that it has a united, functional government under whoever wins the Tory leadership. Nothing good will come of this entire farce for a long time to come.

    • I largely agree with you, but maybe would differ on some points of emphasis.

      I don’t approve of a second referendum couched in the same terms as the first. I think it was done, and now it has to be lived with. We can’t afford to set a precedent whereby referendums are ignored, or even second referendums held without a substantial change in circumstance. I believe the vote on the withdrawal agreement will bring about a new referendum – that seems worthy, indeed essential when it comes to people having their say – and when it all shakes out we’ll stay in on the back of the result of that.

      When it comes to Corbyn, he was speaking quite sensibly. There are issues with the EU, of course there are. But sadly the tone of the narrative was one of “Everything is beautiful” or “Everything is crap”. For stepping outside that nonsense narrative, Corbyn was portrayed as lukewarm and even incomprehensible. (David Dimbleby repeatedly asked, often as a rhetorical question, what on earth Corbyn meant by ‘seven-and-a-half out of ten’, albeit any child in elementary school is familiar with the conception. I don’t believe for a moment Dimbleby is that foolish, but that’s pretty much the tone set for political commentators these days). The grand irony, then, is Corbyn has been pilloried for being a voice that spoke rationally… unlike Cameron, who had to incorporate his own bullshit into his own narrative about immigrants, the threat to the financial industries posed by the EU etc. etc. rather than genuine issues.

      Some of the other remarks I could make have been superseded by May’s leadership. My apologies for my slow response.

  4. Pete, your comment ” Those same people seem convinced that the UK alone would be unshackled from EU regulations including the tariffs the EU imposes upon the rest of the world which means, as far as I can tell, that these people actually think we will leave the European free trade area only to enter a free trade area vastly larger.” certainly concisely sums up one of the main delusions that drove the Brexit vote. Somehow, people swallowed the implied logic that, if, after Brexiting, we would be suddenly free to trade in a larger market, then, by reverse logic, the EU must be preventing us from doing so at present. There was a lot of thick-headed ‘reasoning’ of such pedigree floating around the Brexit flag. Annoying and increased bureaucracy aside, membership in the EU didn’t in any way hamper trade, either UK-EU or UK-Global. The UK’s biggest trading partner remains the U.S., with the EU second. It was shocking to see how the Brexit side played a smoke and mirrors game, and nobody on the remain side made a sytematic, reasoned case against their fabrications. They could have been demolished so easily, and yet no-one respected the UK populace enough to present the requisite facts which would paint the entire picture clearly. From weeks of watching the campaign, I could not come to any other conclusion but that ALL the politicians involved were incapable of honest dealing, so accustomed were they to relying on spin and sound bytes, and so afraid were they of negative fallout, should they spell things out too realistically. Even the Remain forces were playing the game with an eye to their political survival, should the negative polling prove true; result, not a one of them really committed themselves and their careers to the cause. Ironically, Cameron’s dithering, as well as Corbyn’s (I think) have sealed their fate anyway. Meanwhile, the media and political flatulence continues unabated by much in the way of solid analysis – at least as far as communication with the hoi poloi goes. (The ruling class, corporate interests and similar are the only ones discussing the hard-core ramifications, and are the only ones with access to that information and the means to do something about it.) I don’t see this as much different to the situation playing out in the U.S. and what recently played out in Canada – the divide between the general populace along lines of trust, distrust or complete ignorance of elitist interests, macro-economics, austerity and its crimes, and the fallout for ‘everyman.’ The story plays out in Canada and the U.S. through elections, and in the UK via the Brexit referendum, but it is the same story. My guess is that this polarization will play out, much magnified, in the UK’s next election. Brexit has merely opened a large reservoir of gasoline that is now inexorably leaking into the flames of a conflagration long simmering.

    • Agreed on all counts bar Corbyn, again, who seems to be being punished for not playing the game and trying to do it properly.

      However, May fascinates me as the new Tory leader. Reading what she’s saying, I think the days of neoliberalism are over. I’ve a letter in the Guardian I’ll repost here.

      For the first time ever, I am considering voting for the Conservative party. Had Labour given an endorsement for change akin to that Theresa May put at the forefront of her own campaign, they would have had my vote in 2015. Instead I voted Green.

      When Corbyn was elected leader I was overjoyed. Finally, someone offering an alternative. Now the undignified scramble in the party and the autocratic attitude of MPs in elevating themselves above the party membership means I will refuse to vote for them if Corbyn is ousted. So, I am a Corbynista – and how I hope there’s a special place in purgatory reserved for whichever wag came up with that epithet – perhaps about to seek refuge with the Tories. Is this a sign of the confusion of the times? Or a private confusion I ought not to advertise?

      I think the anti-neoliberalism argument has been won almost before it started. With the year’s inception, who could have dreamed that Bernie Sanders would be the main voice behind the Democrats’ effective manifesto in Clinton’s run for the White House? But he has been. The narrative there has shifted markedly. And May seems to have given the big thumbs-down to Cameron and Osborne.

      It seems the powers that be have decided it’s better to go with the tide than be swept away by it.

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