Okay … deep breath … we’re going to talk about Brexit.
Before we start, I want to get this out of the way, just so there’s no doubt: I voted Remain. Remain with a capital R. I hated the leave campaign and how they lied about money, exploited love of the NHS and whipped up fear of immigrants. I think Brexit is a terrible idea, likely to reduce workers' rights, cause an economic shock that will hit the poorest the hardest and restart a sectarian war in Northern Ireland. Even if Brexit wasn’t an awful idea, it’s been handled atrociously by the Tories who can’t even agree amongst themselves as to which horrendous, dystopian visions of the future they want to force on everyone not lucky enough to be financially insulated from this bullshit.
Yes, I have criticisms of the EU and the official Remain campaign couldn’t find a decent argument with both hands. But on the whole if I could wave a magic wand and make the whole Brexit thing go away I would. Slight problem with that: I can’t.
Now, there’s lots of talk of having another referendum or a People’s Vote. The point of this is to stop this Brexit nightmare by democratic means. I’m not going to dignify the colossally stupid idea of stopping Brexit via a non-democratic means with any discussion. Ideas for what exactly the People Vote would be differ, but generally it’s another referendum between some form of Brexit and Britain remaining a full EU member.
Brexit and the left
A lot of the people who don’t like Jeremy Corbyn and don’t like his stance on Brexit are pushing this. The Venn diagram of being Labour, anti-Corbyn and anti-Brexit has a lot of overlap. Also, Corbyn is a Eurosceptic of long standing.
On the other hand, a lot of young people and middle class metropolitan lefties (I’m at least one of those things) are really into Corbyn and really anti-Brexit. Calls for a People’s Vote is not just a means to get rid of Corbyn without the awkwardness of winning a Labour leadership contest. A lot of people on the left think Brexit is a bad idea, handled badly and would like it to go away. Not least the Corbyn leadership who want to turn the many against the few (such as by supporting more money for the NHS), not the many against the many (by rubbing salt into Brexit wounds).
The case against holding another referendum is that most normal people really hate politics, politicians, the time the media devote to politicians, elections and most of all referendums. Everyone remember this?
Another referendum would empower the far right by handing them an easy narrative of the people betrayed by the elite. It would also massively empower the regular pro-Brexit right. “Brexit Betrayed!” Splashed across every right wing paper is a) something all right learning papers really want to do, and b) would mean right wing or far right government until the point the sea rises high enough to drown London.
The case for a second referendum
Another reason not do it is (and I haven’t read this elsewhere is so this maybe, shock horror, an original thought) that it wouldn’t stop Brexit anyway. Even if we stop the current Brexit process without making Arron Banks Fuhrer of Britain, what’s to stop Boris Johnson leading the Conservative Party to a huge election victory at the next general election on the platform of Brexit? After he hoovers up all Tories and Leave Labour voters he’ll take us out of the EU without another referendum or a parliamentary vote or anything. Does the People’s Vote do anything other than kick the can down the road?
The case for a second referendum is built on the idea that significant numbers of people have buyer’s remorse over Brexit. If we do this again, only the diehard immigration haters will vote Brexit; so the logic goes. I don’t think many people do regret their vote, to be honest.
They regret putting Theresa May in charge of Brexit for sure, but the idea itself remains resolutely popular. If anything we’re more Brexit-y now than we were in 2016, as it has been given the sheen of democratic approval - the government wouldn’t throw its weight behind not-Brexit next time. If you’re rolling your eyes right now: remember people do listen to the government, even when David Cameron is in charge of it.
That said … Brexit is currently a massive mess. A mess because it is filled with contradictions and I don’t see how we can resolve these contradictions without another referendum.
With Brexit, essentially, we have to choose between two models: Norway or Canada. High access and taking rules, or low access and striking our own trade deals. Peace in Northern Ireland or more control on immigration. This government is incapable of choosing between the two because it is unwilling to accept the negative consequences of either. I don’t see how other governments, say a Labour one, could resolve this either, as Labour voters are split between wanting controls on immigration and single market access.
Fantasy policy making
Brexit has only got as far as it has through fantasy promises made during the campaign and then fantasy policy making by those who were supposed to be the grown ups and sort this out. Too much bullshit has been said about Britain being able to negotiate something different from these two models. We can’t. Certainly not now, after we have wasted all our good will and nearly all our time. The fantasy crap has obscured the single choice facing Britain.
No one wants what May is offering. Her Chequers agreement won’t work and neither the EU, her party or MPs will accept it. There’s really only one way to resolve the fundamental Brexit split: put both options - with full details, no more fantasies about artificial intelligence, the blockchain or Churchill coming back from the dead to save us - on the table and let the people decide.
That way we can have a proper debate about Brexit, not the farce we had in 2016. People will have to decide whether they want (and newspaper/politicians will have to be honest about the trade offs between) a reduction on immigration and an end to EU red tape or peace in a Northern Ireland and economic stability.
Would there be an option for Remain in such a referendum? As in a complete no Brexit, time machine back to 2015, option? I don’t see this happening in the event of another referendum. Although, if we are going to give people a choice, it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be given the option to make it all go away. Whatever referendum we have will embolden the far right.
Two Brexits and one Remain
The real problem with this plan is: what happens if most people vote for the two Brexits but Remain still wins with about 45% of the vote? We would be in real trouble. Like, armed Gammons storming parliament trouble.
All options are risky. Also, there’s no time to arrange any of this and make sure that the Russians don’t rig it so that Nigel Farage becomes Prime Minister.
So, should we have a People’s Vote or another referendum? I don’t see how we can resolve the two-Brexits issue without one. Parliament would rather tear itself apart than resolve this problem themselves. I would like Remain on the ballot, under the proviso that Brexit is only cancelled if more people voted Remain than both Brexit options combined.
What I really want is for the government/parliament to resolve this. However, I don’t see that happening. Party politics and government are struggling to absorb the result of a referendum. The two seem incompatible. Certainly, having no plan for what happened after the referendum if Brexit won didn’t help. Also, not having a proper debate about what Brexit would actually mean during the referendum made things worse. For this, I blame both the Brexit and Remain press, but we can’t change what happened.
The entire process of Brexit has broken down. As we are going, I don’t see a way forward that doesn’t run the serious risk of a no deal, cliff edge, hospitals run out of medicine, Brexit. Maybe the unthinkable second referendum is the only way to settle this once and for all.
EU flag image created by Yanni Koutsomitis and used under creative commons.