THE CASE FOR A SECOND REFERENDUM

By Rob Harding

I know you’re sick of elections. I know you’re sick of polling. I know you’re deeply, deeply sick of campaigns, and I’m sorry about that.

But in my opinion? We need a second referendum, as a minimum. Brexit is looking more and more like a disaster with every passing minute, and someone, somewhere needs to find the political will to halt it. If the British people have to vote again so be it, because nothing I’ve seen in the past 12 months has done anything to demonstrate Brexit as anything other than a heaping pile of bollocks with a Union Jack in it, especially now Theresa May’s government has hobbled itself with a poorly-planned election.

First things first, the Leave campaign was bullshit. For every one reasonable and educated suggestion about how Brexit could be done there were three ‘Bloody immigrants stealing our jobs’ or ‘straight bananas!’ spewed by mealy-mouthed racist wankers. Even those who wanted to talk economics either straight up made shit up or went along with the strange fantasy that the euro-sceptic Tory hardcore brigade wouldn’t fuck everything sideways to suit their own interests. The ‘Lexit’ lot promised a rejection of globalism, ignoring the reality of which ideology would be delivering Brexit and to what end. Far from shaking globalism, Brexit seems set to create a case study for the consequences of rejecting it.

For every one reasonable and educated suggestion about how Brexit could be done there were three ‘Bloody immigrants stealing our jobs’ or ‘straight bananas!’ spewed by mealy-mouthed racist wankers.

Both Leave and Remain produced blizzards of lies, damned lies and statistics, populist gibberish, gauche patriotism and dire predictions – economic collapse from Remain and hysterical EU conspiracy theories from Leave. On the day of the referendum itself I was genuinely conflicted – I pretty much knew I didn’t want to vote for anything with Nigel Farage in front of it, and wasn’t too keen on Boris Johnson either, but beyond that I felt that the endless facts and counterfacts from both sides had left me ironically unclear on what the Referendum would mean, or what we stood to gain from it. This first letter in The Telegraph on June 14th 2016 says it best.

And that’s the thing. The decision to leave the EU should never have been a mass referendum. Even without the campaigns, and the ugly slinging match they degenerated into, this was, and is, a massive, complex issue that requires an economics-degree level understanding to fully grasp. Partly thanks to years of austerity-borked education, most people (myself included) don’t have that knowledge. Putting the power to wreck the economy, and potentially fuck up an entity which has helped prevent a major European war for over half a century, into the hands of 33.6 million people who don’t have the full picture seems insane. Taking the result of that seriously and going forward with it against your own better judgement (Hello, Theresa) is, and has been, a deeply stupid move. Even this leaves aside the problem that many who voted Leave did not vote for a wide variety of the things that the government has subsequently pushed ahead with – the binary leave/remain left far too much room for interpretation.

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Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator, leads a formidable negotiating team and has near unanimous public support for his objectives. Image credit European Parliament, Flickr.

And that’s without the deeper issues with the Leave campaign that have come to light post-referendum. ‘Will of the people’ me all you like, it’s looking more and more likely that Leave’s success is partly due to outside interference. Dark money (some of it funnelled in via our old friends the DUP) seems to have gone a long way in paying for that fucking bus, and for Leave’s campaigning blitz, a violation of the spirit of the electoral laws that quite sensibly prohibit wealthy interests from simply buying their way into power.

Oh, and there’s the fact that the Russians may well have been involved. Who benefits from EU instability and the withdrawal of a pretty sizeable energy producer/military power from the trading bloc? The EU’s largest regional rival, of course. With a new war between Russia and the West looking increasingly, horrifyingly possible once again, Russia had plenty to gain from influencing the Referendum, just as it did from putting Trump in office, and from other elections of divisive leaders across Europe. The fact that Nigel Farage is a ‘Person of Interest’ in the FBI Russia investigation speaks volumes.

And that’s without the deeper issues with the Leave campaign that have come to light post-referendum. ‘Will of the people’ me all you like, it’s looking more and more likely that Leave’s success is partly due to outside interference

But even if we accept the referendum result at face value, the arguments against Brexit remain. Both sides continue to claim that they would win if the referendum was held again today – proving that polls will say whatever you want them to, but that’s to be expected. The economy isn’t looking good as a result of Brexit; we aren’t in a recession yet, but prices are rising, businesses and institutions are fleeing and immigrants are leaving the NHS and other industries in droves – turns out we needed them, who knew? Worse, the world has changed drastically since the summer of 2016. The US is now run by an insane and, more importantly, almost isolationist government that’s less friendly to international trade, and the international economic climate has been unsettled by repeated political upheavals and geopolitical tensions. Moreover, the Conservative government has taken a major hit in the polls, and to a degree had its version of Brexit rejected by a public that’s now had a year of seeing the (currently mild) aftermath of the referendum.

It may already be too late. Negotiations have started, with Britain’s finest stumbling and huffing their way to the table, backed by a weak government, while anti-Tory sentiment flares back home in the face of the Grenfell Tower disaster and a resurgent Labour. Some damage has certainly already been done economically, not to mention the upswing in hate crimes and skilled workers leaving to find a nation that’s a little less up itself.

At the end of it all, Theresa May has shown a fine independent spirit, by which I mean she’s ignored almost all advice and public pressure. She has not, however, had the courage to end this nonsense before the UK fucks itself over for decades to come. Brexit is a bad, bad idea, being implemented by worse people. If it can’t be cancelled entirely, we at least need a second referendum to see if the British people like the deal Theresa May’s government is trying to get for them.


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Featured image credit: Frankieleon, Flickr

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