Looking beyond Westminster procedures, party splits, and other shenanigans, there are only four possible outcomes of the Brexit saga:
1. A no-deal Brexit
Such a scenario of sudden legal limbo affecting our economy, security and multiple practical arrangements should be unthinkable. See why here. It’s not even a credible negotiating tactic, as it’s like saying “GIMME WHAT I WANT OR I’LL SHOOT MYSELF!”
2. May’s deal (possibly with a few minor tweaks)
Almost as bad as a no-deal Brexit, and not because of the Irish safety net (“Backstop”). See why here.
3. Finding an Alternative Deal
Possibly, the EU would re-open deal if different red lines and clear majority in Commons for something workable and acceptable. But there is no sign of that in Westminster: May spurned Jeremy Corbyn’s offer, and her party would split if she went down that road – and she has always put Tory party unity first, ahead of the national interest. Anyway, it’s getting a bit late for this option.
4. Stopping Brexit
Legally easy, (we just need to withdraw our Art 50 notification and we’d stay with our current opt outs – and have seat at the table where the future of Europe is negotiated), but politically less easy. It no doubt requires another referendum.
Up to now, there has not been a majority for a new referendum (nor for any other outcome!) in the House of Commons, but many MPs say they would support it as a last resort, once it is clear that there is no viable route to an Alternative Deal.
Four arguments are used against having another referendum – and they’re all wrong:
- One is on the principle: “we’ve had one, we must respect the result, as it’s the “will of the people”.
- But there is much evidence that it’s no longer will of the people. It would be folly to proceed with a damaging course of action on the ground that it is what people want, when that might actually no longer be the case. Better to check.
- Brexit is turning out to be very different from what was promised. Far from being easy, it’s complex, far from saving money that would all go to the NHS, it’s costing a fortune. Far from helping Britain get trade deals with countries across the world, it means we drop out of all our existing trade deals. And much more besides. It is actually Leave voters who are entitled to say “This isn’t what we were promised and it’s not what I voted for”
- Opposing a referendum is saying to people: “You had your say 3 years ago, now shut-up”
- It’s normal: Trade Unions put deals back to a vote of their members. Buying house, you have chance to reconsider when the survey comes through. And as even leading Brexiter David Davis said, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy“.
- One is in terms of tactics: some in the Labour Party say “we might lose some of our electoral support”.
- But even in Leave seats, most Labour voters want to Remain (and that number is growing).
- Most voters won’t change their allegiance on this issue alone, so only a few seats will be affected, but for Labour, the greater risk is losing Remainers
- One is practical: it would need an extension of the Art 50 deadline beyond 29 March.
- But this is likely anyway, and would certainly be agreed by the EU27 if it were to allow us to complete our democratic procedures.
- One is to argue that what we really need is a general election.
- Yes, of course. In any case. But we’ve not managed to secure one yet (the Fixed Term Parliament Act works against it). We might stand a better chance if the electorate rebuffs the Tory government in a referendum.
If there is a referendum, would there be a different result? If not, it will have at least legitimised a very different Brexit from what was promised. But there are many indications that a majority would now vote to remain. Opinion has not done what was expected, which was to rally behind the result of the 2016 referendum, and that people would say “we’ve voted, it’s settled”. In fact, opinion has gone the other way: polls show 55-45 for Remain.
That is even more pronounced when people are asked about a specific Leave option (Remain vs. May’s deal, or Remain vs. no-deal). That is not just because of a change in the composition of the electorate (3 more years of younger people turning 18), but because of a significant number of former Leave voters changing their mind (some have even set up an organisation called “Remainers Now”).
Of course, many people are fed up with hearing about Brexit. Brexiters are trying to exploit that sentiment, saying “just walk away, we don’t need a deal”. But any kind of Brexit will in fact mean years more negotiations & acrimony, dominating headlines and our political debates for years to come.
Most people would breath a huge sigh of relief if the whole saga ended.
We could then get on with dealing with the real problems facing country!