I have wanted to write about Brexit for a long time. The trouble was I was not sure what my thoughts were. I voted remain, yet my initial reaction was that the referendum result had to be respected. I did not want a second referendum as I believe it would open the possibility of a third, fourth, fifth and so on. We could not claim to live in a democracy and not respect such a clear democratic exercise. However, if the last two and a half years have shown anything is that Brexit is anything but clear. There are countless problems with turning Brexit from a concept into legislation. For me there is now only one way out of the quagmire that is Brexit and that is a second referendum. As David Lammy said this week, ‘When politics is broken we can only put the question back to the British people’. Politics is broken, and the public must break the deadlock.
To be clear, I am not advocating another simple leave/remain vote. If the last two and a half years have shown anything, it is that the lack of clarity over what the ‘leave’ option entailed was a grave mistake. Instead of such a simple vote, there should be three options on the ballot paper. They should be to leave the EU under May’s deal, to leave the EU without a deal, and to remain in the EU. Voters would select their first second and third preference vote. The first option to receive 50% of the vote would become the choice of the British people. Unlike last time it should be written into law that this referendum would be legally binding. Moreover, 3-6 months after the referendum, there should be a general election to decided Britain’s future following the vote, allowing each party to spell put their vision with more clarity than 2017.
I do wish that the 2016 referendum, or the 2017 general election, had been decisive. However, they both showed just how divided Britain is on Brexit. What is even clearer though is how divided parliament is. Between the different factions of hard Brexiters, Tory remainers, Labour centrists, Labour Brexiters, the DUP, the SNP and the Labour/Tory party loyalists it is impossible to conceive of any deal that would unite a sufficient number of MPs to achieve a majority in parliament. That is why any second referendum must be legally binding. It would offer MPs no wiggle room, no get out clause and would be a true reflection of the public’s intentions.
There is also the issue of the money behind the various campaigns during and following the referendum, some of which is now part of criminal investigations. There are serious questions over the legitimacy of the referendum result, both due to financial irregularities and lies told on both sides during the campaign. A second referendum would help to end the questions surrounding the 2016 referendum. Ideally, this new referendum would be overseen by an independent body, such as the UN, to ensure that it is democratic. While this may appear to be extreme, it is arguably the only way to guarantee the legality of the referendum.
Another benefit of a new referendum is that it would give the electorate a chance to vote on a clear vision for Brexit, not just the half-baked ideas of countless politicians of conflicting ideologies. I do not believe the new vote should offer the opportunity for a different, yet-to-be-negotiated deal as it would create more problems than it would solve. A major issue of the 2016 referendum was the lack of clarity over the ‘leave’ option. To offer another unclear Brexit deal would be too appealing to those who wish to shape Brexit to their ideology, which we have already seen is unworkable. Moreover, the Tories have wasted years trying to negotiate a deal and the country can wait no longer. The issue of Brexit must be solved one way or another soon, so Britain can move on.
There is now a possibility that there will be a second referendum. The idea is already backed by the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru. Additionally, today Jeremy Corbyn wrote to party members to say that if Labour could not secure a general election, they ‘will support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a people’s vote’. If the Tory remainers are added to this, there is a real possibility that there would be a majority in parliament in favour of a public vote. Sadly though, most Tories lack the nerve to rebel as they fear a Corbyn-led Labour government.
There is one final, simple reason why there should be a second referendum. What other choice is there? May’s deal has little chance of making it through parliament and her premiership can now likely be measured in weeks. There is no agreed upon alternative by any parliamentary group that could achieve a majority. A public vote is the only thing that could break the deadlock. While a general election could solve Brexit, elections should not be single issue as manifestos and governments are far more reaching than that. There must be a new referendum, but it must be on the right terms. Otherwise, Britain is doomed to be mired in the quagmire that is Brexit forever.