The radical left doesn’t have a moral or philosophical position on Brexit. There are arguments for both Leave and Remain from a radical left-wing perspective, but there is no consensus. Take the figurehead of the radical left, Jeremy Corbyn. He doesn’t have a principled position on Brexit, which is odd for a man who has strong principals on everything else. He prefers the position that will make him Prime Minister. Brexit is making Corbyn act like a regular politician, where his great strength is how unlike a regular politician he is.
The radical left finds itself in the difficult position of thinking tactically about Brexit and not leading from our core principles. Our principles of Internationalism favours Remain, but the nature of the EU as a hyper-neoliberal, technocratic institution favours Leave. The memory of how the EU treated the economically ravaged Greece doesn’t inspire good feeling from the radical left, but then neither does the nationalistic and right-libertarian tones of the Brexit movement.
Many people I know strongly support the idea of having a second referendum as a means to kill Brexit once and for all. This has led me to think about whether, as a member of the radical left, it’s the right thing to do.
Giving people more of say over their lives is something I strongly believe in, which is why as a member of the radical left I support more localism and democracy being more than just people putting an X next to a name on a ballot paper every five years. A citizen’s assembly would be a good way to address Brexit, but neither the government nor Parliament is considering this.
A People’s Vote would give people another chance to express what they want and it could break the deadlock in Parliament. It might also be a way to avert a No Deal Brexit, the economic fallout of which would be felt by the poorest hardest. You can bet that Boris Johnson is financially protected from the No Deal he advocates.
If Remain were to decisively win another referendum it could end the nationalism, racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric that has come to dominate the country since the referendum campaign began. It would be a chance to revoke the language of hatred that has infected our political discourse.
Whatever Brexit was supposed to be, it has become an attack on all the positive functions of the state (such as linking disparate people together into a common web to achieve things together and provide protections for labour and the environment) by attacking the EU from a right-wing free-market position and focusing anti-government rage against it, whilst simultaneously seeking to enhance all the negative functions of a state (such as heavy-handed policing, mass surveillance, data collection on an industrial scale and a mechanism for perpetuating inequality and plutocratic rule) through a sovereignty oriented appeal to give more power to the British government. All this must be opposed and a People’s Vote would give us the opportunity to stop it.
Despite this, I have my doubts about a second referendum. My main concern is the anger unleashed by any attempt to stop Brexit. Certainly, a People’s Vote could be sold by any unscrupulous politician wishing to whip up support for themselves as a betrayal of the first vote. Do we know anyone who might be tempted to act like that? There are certainly elements of the pro-Brexit press and Conservative Party that are itching to splash “Brexit Betrayal!” across newspapers and internet. Already Donald Trump Jr is talking about Brexit betrayal and that democracy is dead in Britain.
Satirist and host of The Bugle podcast, Andy Zaltsman, described the first EU referendum as like the nation sticking it’s penis in a plug socket. This seems like an apt description as, like walking in on man with his penis in a plug socket, I have no idea how we got into his situation but everything about it is simultaneously incredibly stupid and incredibly degrading. I’m not sure what can be gained from sticking the nation’s penis in the plug socket for a second time.
Emotions ran high over the last referendum and they will run higher over another one. The last one pushed the country apart and ripped open a new political fracture. Another EU referendum could shatter us entirely. One MP was killed in the last referendum campaign. How much violence could be unleashed by another?
There are many other ways a second referendum could go wrong. What happens if Remain wins, but by less than 52%? What happens if Remain wins on a lower turnout, or wins but with fewer votes than the 17.4 million who voted Leave last time? All of these outcomes will resolve nothing and make us a more divided and bitter nation.
I am not sure if it’s even possible for Remain to reach the dizzying heights of 52% in a People’s Vote. It’s hard to gauge which way opinion will jump after the campaigns gets going. Supporters of a second referendum have highlighted how demographic churn could benefit Remain in a People’s Vote - it’s always the sign of a decent political movement that it’s celebrating the deaths of people who think differently to them – but Remain started with a larger lead last time and went on to lose.
I also don’t think that we have a convincing argument for Remain beyond “make this shitshow stop”. I’m sure many people wish this nightmare was over, but do they really want the pre-2016 status quo back enough to vote for it? I don’t think this is what most people in the country want and I don’t see Remain providing any other arguments beyond the raw of indignation of a middle class person in a slightly posh restaurant when something hasn’t gone their way.
Recent voting has also shown that there is no majority in Parliament for a People’s Vote. Many strong Remain supporting MPs, like Caroline Flint, have changed to supporting Brexit as that’s what their constituents voted for. Is there an argument that can win other these MPs? The most obvious one is that Brexit won’t fix their constituents’ problems and will most likely make them worse.
Herein lies the core of the problem with the case for the EU. The best way to argue for it is convincing an elected leader that what’s in the best interest of their constituents is the exact opposite of what they want. Their views don’t matter, only some other greater good whose benefits are intangible. Meanwhile their lives get worse, they feel they have less control and become more culturally alienated from everyone else. The arguments for the EU have contained within them their own undoing.
If we had a People’s Vote, we will need to learn from the last referendum. We haven’t got any better at selling the EU. In the last three years, no new arguments have risen for Remain that can convince people this time. The only new development is now that we see how complex Brexit is.
Politics right now is too unpredictable to call another referendum. The outcome is almost impossible to predict and with the likes of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson having a larger platform than they did three years ago, a second vote could turn very nasty.
Despite this, a No Deal Brexit would be so disastrous that I cannot support the idea in any circumstances. It must be prevented at all cost. The wealthy won’t suffer under a No Deal, but everyone else will. It will be like the 2008 financial crash all over again, but much worse. However, if we do nothing then a No Deal will happen. A second referendum would be accepted to stop a No Deal Brexit. The possibility of something terrible happening is preferable to the certainty of something terrible happening.
All of this is tactical thinking. I have not managed to find a moral answer to the question of whether the radical left should oppose or support a People’s Vote. Brexit is dividing our movement, cutting across the political spectrum and creating new divisions. This is the effect of the great wound that Brexit has opened up in our politics.