Brexit mess should be fixed where it started.. in Parliament

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 January 2018

Devastated Remain supporters after the referendum result

Devastated Remain supporters after the referendum result

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A second referendum? It's time to stop looking backwards and start making demands of the people who caused this problem in the first place, says MATT KELLY

Be careful what you wish for. And be doubly careful if you ever find yourself nodding along with Nigel Farage, no matter how tempting it might be. There’s almost certainly a great big lie behind anything he’s saying.

The lie behind his claim that “maybe, just maybe” he’s coming round to the idea of a second referendum is this: He’s not maybe, just maybe coming round to the idea. He’s desperate for it.

Few people want a second referendum more than Nigel Farage. The words “June 23 will go down in history as our Independence Day” now sit in his mouth like ashes.

Farage’s Brexit Ultras have watched impotently while Theresa May – hemmed in as she is by insolubility (Ireland), incompetence (Davis) and in-fighting (the entire Conservative party) – turned their Hard Brexit fantasy into the soft fudge of BINO (Brexit In Name Only) we’re now heading for.

This outcome satisfies nobody, except a Prime Minister more concerned with gaffer-taping together two wings of a fractious party in the interests of retaining power.

For Farage, a second referendum gives him the chance to stir the pot once more, get in front of those Question Time audiences some more, and, maybe, just maybe, get another Leave Vote to hammer home his No Deal dream.

And for us Remainers, dumped out of the ring in 2016 by the surprise Farage uppercut, the opportunity to climb back through the ropes and have another ding-dong, is appealing. Certainly, a second referendum has a sense of logic. If the will of The People changes, then The People should have the chance to express it.

We’ve argued as much in this newspaper, repeatedly. Many of us will continue to argue that this is indeed the only true corrective solution to the first referendum.

But would a second referendum really set to rights the disaster of the first, or merely solidify the dreadful divisions that vote created?

Imagine the consequence of a narrow victory for Remain.

What would it prove? That this time it was we who cared more? That the Remain-inclined who stayed at home were less complacent? That a small proportion of wavering Leave voters had been won around? What would that prove, except that we were still a nation split in two.

And imagine the consequences of a narrow Leave victory, again with a narrow margin.

Would we Remainers not just fall back on the same arguments we’ve been articulating for the last 18 months, with no material movement (if polls are right) on either side?

Consider also the fact that turnout would almost certainly be substantially lower than last time, since a significant rump of people are (fairly enough) bored rigid by the whole affair.

Would the second result ever be seen to be legitimate? Would Farage ever shut up about a carve-up by the metropolitan elite?

Remainers can argue all year (God knows we have been) about the iniquity of the first vote – its closeness, the pervasive lies, the effective mere 37% of the electorate who voted to Leave, the fine points of legality.

But that’s getting us nowhere. We’ve got to stop looking backwards, and start making reasonable demands on the people who caused this problem in the first place; our MPs.

Our system of government is called Representative Democracy. There’s a clue in the name.

(And by the way, can we please start teaching this stuff to our children in school. And then empower them to actually vote in their interests at the age of 16? So the following generation has a proportional influence in what, be definition, will affect them the most.)

It’s beyond time MPs stopped parroting this “The People have spoken” nonsense and started, instead, to represent The People’s best interests.

The vote of June 23, 2016 was always about so much more than membership of the European Union. George Osborne’s austerity, trolleys in hospital corridors, an utter absence of a social strategy, underinvestment in infrastructure, the size of our kids’ classrooms, the queues at the GP.

How does a second referendum on Brexit solve any of this?

Brexit should be stopped. Full stop. It’s bad for our economy, our security and our place in the world. Brexit will make Britain a second rate nation.

And perhaps, with that argument successfully conveyed, it would be possible to re-galvanise the nation. To have the reasoned, fact-checked debate we lacked in June 2016, and this time with a much clearer idea of the consequences of our vote. Perhaps Remain would win a convincing victory that would clear the way to reversing Brexit. Perhaps.

But Brexit is wrapped up in so many other real problems that it seems to me far, far preferable for this mess to
be resolved where it started – in Parliament.

How exactly? One possible scenario would be a No vote on whatever proposed deal Mrs May manages to bring back to Westminster, based on a clear shift in public sentiment.

This would be followed by a General Election fought on the issue not solely on the issue of Brexit, but recognising Brexit as a (very large) factor influencing our potential to address the many real problems our country faces.

It would take exceptionally brave politics, both from the front and back benches of either side of the House.

But when you consider where weak, duplicitous and unstable politics has got us today, that in itself seems an appealing option.

Matt Kelly is editor of The New European

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