The suggestion of a new referendum to solve the current Brexit gridlock is nothing new. From the moment the results were announced calls shouted from traumatised remain voters for a second referendum. A petition backing this referendum broke all record receiving over 4.1 million signatures while major parties such as the Liberal Democrats have gone as far as to make a second referendum their official policy.
Passions still run high on both sides of the issue. We must never allow ourselves to forget the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox, a brutal example that highlights just how extreme these feelings can become. These passionate feelings, when combined with the 48% of the public that voted remain as well as the disarray and confusion of the Brexit negotiations, has stirred many to call out for a second referendum, either in its own right or more logically on the final terms of the Brexit deal.
Perhaps then it is best to weigh up some pros and the cons of having a second Brexit referendum.
Pro – The people now have some idea of what Brexit looks like
During the referendum between the abhorrent scaremongering, the infamous bus slogans and the ridiculous boat battles one common criticism was that the government had no real back up plan or strategy for Brexit. More importantly, no one really knew what “Brexit” even meant. Was the UK going to enter a Norway style deal? Would it be a hard Brexit? A Soft Brexit? What did these terms even mean? No one on either side of the campaign seemed to agree.
Now at least the British Public has some idea of what Brexit will look like. Issues no one seemed to care about during the referendum are now fully in the public conscience, i.e. the Irish border. A second referendum would be a more accurate gauge of how the public feels about Brexit. If it is a referendum on the final terms of the deal then it will be an absolute affirmation of Brexit. A referendum where voters having full knowledge on every aspect the Brexit deal.
Con – It is incredibly undemocratic
If this most recent campaign is a success then essentially, with all due to respect to Mr. Soros, an unelected foreign billionaire will have successfully used his own personal wealth to overturn the largest single democratic vote in British history. One area where the European Union has a poor record is in respecting democratic votes. Given the cancellation of the Irish European Constitution referendum as well as the overturning of the results of the French and Dutch European Constitution referendums, Greek Euro Bailout Referendum and even Denmark’s referendum on the Maastricht treaty then it can easily be argued that in democratic terms a second referendum would simply be a surrender of our countries democratic rights.
Furthermore, there are undeniably various vested interests in the continuation of the UK’s membership in the EU. In the short-term a second Brexit referendum is highly attractive to those who wish to ensure the future of the European Union. Especially considering the huge Eurosceptic populism rising across the continent. But the nature of George Soros, an American-Hungarian financier, being a driving force behind a new campaign for a second referendum has many on both sides of the issue outraged as a foreign billionaire seeks to meddle with British democracy for the sake of his own personal economic interests.
Consequentially to many, a second referendum would seem like the UK symbolically bowing to the demands of unelected EU officials and technocrats. Whether this is an accurate display of what a second referendum would actually be is beside the point as the European Union’s poor record of respecting democratic results that are anti-EU is easy fodder for those on the side of leave to utilise against another referendum.
Pro – In many ways it would help Britain
In various diplomatic, political and economic ways staying in the EU would be a huge boost to the UK in the short term. The last two years have exposed a large amount of ignorance on both sides of the debate in terms of what EU membership is and what it actually does for the United Kingdom.
Economically speaking, before the referendum, the UK was the fastest growing economy in Europe, it had the highest amount of investment and was on par to supersede Germany as the largest European economy. Despite growth being larger than remain first suggested it is much slower than before, with inward investment starting to stagnate. Ironically by leaving the EU in many ways, we are playing into the hands of the EU officials in Brussels. The lack of stern opposition towards a European super-state combined with the stunting of British economic growth will only cause Brussel’s influence to increase. The last thing most brexiteers would want.
It should also be noted that while the inability to make bilateral trade agreements is hugely frustrating single market membership is secure in economic terms. Perhaps a better strategy would be to try to reform this system from the inside while enjoying the protection it provides. But then again, the EU has constantly demonstrated how obtuse it is in this regard.
I feel it must also be highlighted that many brexiteers are also in a far more secure financial position than the everyday man on the street, thus reducing the effect of any economic impacts caused by Brexit by comparison. Jacob Reese-Moog, for example, is an MP I have huge respect for due to his conviction and diligence in his representation of his constituents. He, however, is a hugely successful investment banker with a net worth of over £100 million. The effect a Brexit caused recession would have on him and his family would be far less severe then it would be to the average citizen. The political elite that supports a hard Brexit, on the whole, can afford to wait for the short-term consequences to fade out, something that many of us simply cannot afford to do.
Con – No one can really predict the long-term impacts
In the long-term economists cannot accurately predict whether Brexit will be a bane or an asset to the United Kingdom. During the 1980s economists predicted Japan would become the next great superpower, yet a recession in the early 90s and a huge Chinese economic boom have caused this prediction to fall flat. In the Early 2000s meanwhile, Brazil was predicted to surpass the UK and France by the mid-2010s, yet lack of education and widespread corruption have caused Brazil to stagnate in terms of its economy. What this shows is that Economists can easily get predictions wrong, so while George Soros can claim the UK is in “immense danger” in the short term he cannot claim this in the long term.
The inability of the EU to solve the Greek economic crisis as well as the situation unfolding in Italy both put the Eurozone, and consequentially the European Union as a whole, at huge risk. This is not even mentioning the likelihood of widespread Eurosceptic success at next year’s elections for the European Parliament. Therefore the uncertainty surrounding the European project as well as reports of a “Canada plus plus plus” trade deal with the European Union on the horizon seem to suggest that in the short term things aren’t going to be as bad as many remainiers are suggesting.
Over the long term meanwhile leaving the EU may well be a blessing to the United Kingdom. On the other hand, however, the likes of Soros easily could be correct and the “Canada plus plus plus” trade deal may be an exaggeration by brexiteers who wish to continue to garner popular support for Brexit despite the huge economic risks it presents us with. The fact of the matter is that we as the public simply do not know.
In the end, I find myself highly conflicted on this issue. On one hand, the hostility of the EU under Barnier in the negotiations, as well as the problematic nature of the funding of this campaign, dissuades me from endorsing such an action. In many ways to give up now feels like it may only undermine the progress that has been made since the Brexit vote. Ultimately a second referendum on the final terms of the deal would grant the British people the right to choose which outcome they desire. Furthermore this time they shall be doing so with full knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of both outcomes. If Brexit will be as lucrative for the country as many leading brexiteers claims then surely the British people will vote the same way? If the “Canada plus plus plus” trade deal is achieved then perhaps leave will even win with an increased majority.
If not, however, then the democratic will of the people, now privy to the full details of what Brexit will entail on both the macro and micro levels, will opt to remain. As the saying goes cutting out a man’s tongue does not prove he is wrong but that you fear what he has to say. If we do not have a vote on the final terms the British public is having their tongues metaphorically cut out. This is simply unacceptable. Somone who voted Brexit hoping for a Norway style deal but instead faced with a hard Brexit will not have had their voice heard. Likewise, a hard brexiteer who voted in favour of severing all ties with the EU faced with the UK still part of the EEA and customs unions post-Brexit will also have had their democratic will overlooked. In the end, in my opinion, the final Brexit deal can only be legitimately made under the approval of a second referendum, this time on the final terms of the deal to ensure the public get what they voted for in 2016.