Paul Connew: Bring on a second referendum

Theresa May speaks during a General Election campaign visit to Grand Station in Wolverhampton in the

Theresa May speaks during a General Election campaign visit to Grand Station in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands (Picture: Steve Parsons/PA) - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Last week's New European caused waves with its caution over a second referendum. But for columnist PAUL CONNEW, another vote holds no concern.

I found myself uncharacteristically at odds with The New European's cover headline last week urging caution over a second referendum, and editor Matt Kelly's line that the 'Brexit mess should be fixed where it started… in Parliament', rather than in a fresh plebiscite.

Yes, MPs and Peers must debate and vote on whatever 'deal' is on offer. But it can't be left to parliamentarians alone to either drag us into the disastrous, drowning mire of Brexit, or rescue us at the 11th hour.

OK, the referendum was a mistake. Government by plebiscite is flawed. Flawed when you take such a monumental, history-shaping gamble as Brexit via an absurdly simplistic binary vote and a simple majority. Beyond flawed and into immoral when the decision to hold that referendum was all about the Tory party's internal wars and the external threat of UKIP and not the national interest. The result has been a toxic brew, which has cursed us with that 'will of the people' mantra.

A second referendum now represents the only viable mechanism for springing the lock to the Brexit prison cell door. Ideally, 16- and 17-year-olds should be able to vote, just as they were in the Scottish independence referendum. Fear of what might happen in the event of a second referendum was, I suspect, the underlying motive behind last year's shameful filibuster by Tory right-wingers to block a bid by Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens and some progressive Tories to lower the voting age. (Arguing the case for a Super Majority in any second vote is, sadly, almost certainly a hope too far.)

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That said, I'm still a second referendum outcome optimist – if public opinion can help us force the politicians' hands. With polls gradually shifting, growing contempt for the incompetence and duplicity of negotiating ministers, and the true impact of Brexit coming home to roost, it is obvious why our political Brexiteers seek to brand the second referendum argument 'heresy'. They are running scared.

I've never felt more dejected about being right than when, despite arguing passionately for Remain, I wrote columns elsewhere before the vote, predicting why and where Leave would win the 2016 vote; my prediction was based on an (unscientific) poll among 150 contacts in North and Midland Labour heartland seats which returned the equivalent of a 53-47% Leave win (in contrast to the big pollsters projections). But I also forecast public opinion would reverse before Brexit departure D-Day arrived.

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So, after Nigel Farage's tantalising second referendum intervention, I went back to my sample group. Almost 40% of Leavers have changed their minds or are flirting with it, and approaching 60% would welcome a second referendum, conceding the costs, chaos, complexities and contradictions of departure merit a ballot box revisit when the final terms are clear. Significantly, they wouldn't want a simplistic Yes/No question again either.

These aren't Damascene Europhile converts. They won't be taking to the streets wrapped in EU flags and singing Ode to Joy. They fall into three broad categories. Those who now believe Brexit will make their lives and their children's futures worse; those who remain Leavers at heart but think the Brexit they'll get will be so unlike the Brexit they imagined they no longer think it worth the candle; those so disillusioned by the politicians responsible they no longer trust them to negotiate an acceptable outcome.

Among analogies I have used for Brexit are that it is like going on a blind date, or being forced into marriage, or agreeing to buy a house without waiting for the survey. But one of my 'Regrexits' – a 38-year-old woman fan of The Wizard of Oz – pitched it perfectly: 'I voted Leave because I was sold the idea Britain would be heading down the Yellow Brick Road… only to realise the Yellow Brick Road is full of deep potholes and the promised land of Brexit is a fake and an illusion just like The Wizard.'

Second referendum? Bring it on.

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