Brexit isn’t going terribly well. And we haven’t even left yet. Who’d a thunk it? The fall in the value of the pound has driven up inflation, making us all a bit poorer. Brexiteers promised that this would boost exports. But it seems that they forgot how much of the raw materials are imported in the first place. The rest of Europe is seeing accelerated growth, whilst ours is sagging. Gibraltar and the Falklands have become flashpoints, as I long ago suggested they would. Some jobs have gone. More will go. And hardened Brexiteers themselves have rather pointedly stopped arguing that there will be any sort of economic benefit from exiting the EU, falling back on the argument, ‘the people have spoken – there will be uproar if we don’t see it through’. It’s a ridiculous argument. Politicians should act for the long term good of the people on their behalf, not for some flimsy ‘will’ that reflects a singular moment in time.
Both main political parties are riven with internal division over what Brexit should look like. But whilst you might think that there are genuinely different policy options available to voters – hard left with Jeremy Corbyn or hard right with Theresa May – you’d be wrong. Probably. They are both as committed to ‘hard Brexit’ as each other. Everything else in their manifestos is largely irrelevant. Promises that you cannot afford to keep when the costs of Brexit kick in don’t count for squat. The only other real option is to vote Liberal Democrat. They are the only main UK party campaigning to keep Britain in the EU, albeit through the 2nd referendum route.
The Libs have just chosen a new party leader, and he’s a sound choice. Sir Vince Cable has personality, gravitas, experience and is a decent orator and debater. He is the champion of the Remainers. Our Obi Wan Kenobi. We can but hope the force is with him. And a sizeable chunk of the electorate too, when the next election comes. Assuming that it does indeed come before it is too late – March 2019. But whilst Sir Vince could play a part in halting Brexit in its tracks, there are other potential spanners that could be thrown in the far right plot to quit the EU. Here’s my top 5, listed least to most likely.
Or the very significant threat of war. Let’s hope not. It would take more than the Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight having a hissy-fit with each other, with slingshots at dawn. A major escalation of conflict in Ukraine, Syria or elsewhere between NATO and Russia would do it. Or, possibly, a series of massive terrorist attacks within the EU, on a scale not yet dreamed of let alone seen. Brexit could be postponed. Although eventually the topic would have to be raised again. And almost certainly, there would be a second referendum.
This, in my opinion, would be the most interesting of developments. I’m not suggesting that we’ll see the well-to-do sent to the guillotine. I’m suggesting that there could be movement on key issues on both sides of the channel. Particularly the immigration issue. An initial dose of Brexiteer U-Turn or Economic Calamity would surely help this process along, or perhaps even a complete breakdown in the current negotiations. But if the EU and the UK could strike a meaningful deal on immigration, almost certainly involving a quota system, then who knows? This could be the one way to get out of Brexit without the need for a second referendum. Everyone can declare victory and wave their respective flags whilst nothing much really changes.
If it becomes ever so apparant to those involved in the divorce negotiations that Brexit will not live up to their hopes and dreams, but will instead have a massively detrimental effect on the UK – will he/she/they swallow their pride, own up and bail out? One of the chief architects of the Leave campaign has already done so, in rather low key fashion. But it needs to be someone closer to the top. Theresa May? Maybe, but she was a Remainer in the EU Referendum campaign. So maybe not. But if David Davis had an abrupt change of mind, especially if he were joined by Michael Gove or (more likely) Boris Johnson – that could be the key to a second referendum.
Picture the scene, less than a year to go before we Brexit for real. There is still no firm deal on our exit terms. It’s looking like the worst case scenario might actually happen, or an actual deal if struck may not be that much better. The economy is properly tanking. Huge numbers of jobs are being lost. It’s clear more will go. Public finances are struggling to supply the bare minimum of services. The NHS, still without that magical £350 million a week cash injection, looks close to collapse. And then the headlines appear. Tata thinking about relocating Land Rover to France. Perhaps Jaguar too. Imagine the dent to national pride if they renamed the marque, Le Jaguar? Sacre bleu! Would a Brexiteer government survive the enraged onslaught of an emboldened majority of Remainers that make up parliament? I think not. It would be likely in the event of a dire economic turn for the worse that we’d see a change of government. And a statement shortly thereafter that the government recognises that the public mood has changed and a second referendum would be in order.
Almost all roads for halting Brexit lead to a second referendum. In my opinion, the most likely cause for a second referendum would occur in the event of another general election in 2017. Another election with no clear winner. But with the Labour party having sufficient seats to be able to form a government with Lib Dem and SNP support. Support that will come only with an agreement to have that second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, once it is agreed. Do you accept the deal and wish to continue Brexit? Do you wish to decline the deal and Remain in the EU? At least this time the public would have a choice between this or that. Rather than this or not this.
Do I give much chance of any of the above happening? There’s a chance. It remains more likely at this point that the UK will go through with Brexit. The bookies will give you 5/1 on there being a second referendum before the end of next year. Would a second referendum produce a different result? I was a little cautious with the 2016 vote. It appeared Remain would win, but I wasn’t convinced. It looked very close to me. I put it at 50/50 or thereabouts. People I spoke to had strong opinions and it was clear a lot of the Leave nonsense got through. It seems clear to me today that it’s still working.
There is a hardcore bunch out there who voted to leave to EU because they don’t like Muslims, swallowed a whole load of ‘EU banned curvy bananas’ type myths and who are essentially just a little bit racist. Their vote wasn’t based on reality in the first place and they won’t change. But I do know a fair number of more moderately minded people who voted Leave last time round but who would now vote Remain, or are at least minded to. This is a big country, so there are almost certainly a few who have gone the other way. But I’ve not personally met someone who intends to switch their Remain vote to Leave. If a second referendum were held tomorrow, I’d be fairly confident that Remain would win the day. Perhaps by as much as a 55% to 45% margin.
Here’s the kicker. The Marie Antoinette moment for the Brexiteers, if you will. The champions of Leave have long been gloating that the UK can ‘have our cake and eat it’. It’s a catchy little phrase that they’ve repeated long and loud for more than a year. It’s a phrase that’s likely to come back and haunt them. One of the most immediate effects of Brexit, has been the cost of food. It’s going to get worse. Phrases with ‘cake’ in them are going to ring hollow when the poorest and most vulnerable of the population, the group that voted for Brexit in large numbers, the pensioners, the unemployed and the low paid are going hungry because they can’t afford to put a decent meal on the table. Hunger makes a person angry. One would hope that they would know where to direct their anger next time round. Is there a volunteer from the Tory ranks to play the French queen?