Politics United Kingdom

Second Referendum: Why the UK is not learning lessons from Brexit

Despite the chasm that is dividing the United Kingdom at the moment, the British can all agree on one thing: No one is happy with the way Brexit is being carried out. This is mainly because the people didn’t demand a definition of Brexit until it was too late. Whether leaver or remainer, everyone assumed their personal interpretation of Brexit was the right one. They didn’t seek a general consensus of meaning because they thought it was unnecessary. The UK wasn’t going to leave. Remain would win! Even the leavers thought that.

In hindsight, Brexit has given the country, maybe even the entire world, valuable lessons. How galling it is, then, that we have chosen not to learn them!

Eighteen months later the call for Brexit has been replaced with calls for a second referendum. Now, as then, politicians are not tasked with the responsibility of clarifying what they mean; let alone how they would bring it about. Nick Clegg (I refuse to use his undeserved title) Vince Cable and even Tony Blair have been showered with praise from remainers for offering only the mindless bleating of ‘second referendum’. There is no intelligence in that; no political skills, either. It is just pandering to hopeful: The 50% or so of the population who demand nothing but straws to clutch on to; not daring to demand the straws are rooted in foundation. As with Brexit, when it comes to the second referendum, Remainers are comforted in their own assurances, which are as foundationless as their straws: They believe political skill is unnecessary, because Remain will win. Even the leavers are worried they will lose a second referendum – or rather they were!

Enter stage far right: Nigel Farage. Call him a fool if you will, but he won the last referendum. As he rightly pointed out, they laughed at him when he came into politics, but they are not laughing now. It would be very unwise to dismiss Farage’s political skills and his ability to read the mood of the people. Farage has woken up to a possibility that still lies snoozing in the minds of remainer politicians: Leavers have the very real possibility of winning a second referendum.

Project Fear didn’t work last time. It is not working this time, either. It is yet another unlearnt lesson from the school of Brexit. People on low income, who voted in their millions to leave the EU, constantly live in Project Fear. They survive from one pay cheque to the next. They live in the shadow of job insecurity. They struggle with public service cuts. Remaining offers nothing but the same. If leaving the EU offers only a sliver of hope of change then why not vote leave?  The Guardian-readers don’t get that. Jeremy Corbyn does!

If the old arguments for leaving are not enough to convince leavers, there is even more bad news for remainers: The leavers have added another powerful argument that isn’t being heard by the remainers over their  calls for a second referendum: The will of the people! There are those who believe that the decision has been made and should be respected – whatever the outcome. Such a principal may seem strange to EU supporters, but for those who live with Project Fear on a daily basis, a bad outcome changes nothing. At least the will of the people would have been respected. The powerful elite forced to obey the wishes of the otherwise disenfranchised. It’s tempting stuff to many.

Every nation gets the politicians it deserves. The British get a poor quality of parliamentarian because the demand nothing more. The titbits of hope offered by Clegg, Cable et al should not satisfy. Brexit has shown us we need to get to the meat of the issue as early as possible. With the second referendum that means consensus on what type of referendum we all mean. The choices are not palatable. This is why remainer-politicians avoid making them.

Do we go with the same set up as the previous referendum or a qualified majority? Neither will be a walk in the park for remainers, but the uncertainty grows if we add a third or fourth option. Do we allow the under 18s and long-term ex-pats to vote this time? What do we take as the default setting: The result of the first referendum (which even leavers admit is based on mis-information) or the status quo with the UK as a member of the EU?

It’s ironic that Theresa May has been mocked for using the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’ as it has turned out to be arguably the most truthful statement she has made regarding Brexit. At the time of coining the phrase, Brexit did not exist. She was telling us that Brexit will be what it turns out to be when it is a thing. If we are to learn anything from Brexit, we need to clarify now what ‘second referendum’ means before it’s too late.

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