It struggles on Westminster and Brussels, but nobody other than those delivering it thinks of Brexit anymore. Not until recently, when that daily, mostly trivial and ephemeral occurence, known to most people as a ‘news story’, happened.
The little chorus of loud voices advocating a second referendum on our EU membership has been sounding since the morning after the first, but recently it welcomed a surprising new member: Nigel Farage.
It is an ironic little paradox that in doing so he agreed with those unreconstructed Remainers to whom he is usually so opposed. He is certain that the British public would reinforce their 2016 verdict, to finally “kill off ” the issue of EU departure for good.
Still, calling referenda merely to “kill off ” issues isn’t always a winning tactic: just ask David Cameron. We cannot know whether this was an off the cuff quip or a clever, calculated ploy.
Or perhaps de facto retirement from frontline politics has simply rendered Farage bored enough to clamour for the next morning’s melodramatic headlines?
The Daily Mirror declared it a “shock EU-turn”. Another newspaper, the Guardian, headlined: “Hopes raised for a second EU referendum”, and emphasised the genuine jubilation at Farage’s comment from pro-EU voices such as Adonis, Blair and Clegg.
What this hardline A-B-C clique seem not to understand is that, put simply, sabotaging Brexit is by no means as easy as 1-2-3.
Firstly, British public opinion on this tired issue is now an odd mixture between most former Remainers’ pragmatic, albeit depressed and reluctant, resignation towards its inevitability, and most former Brexiteers’ hope for a more prosperous and democratic post-EU Britain.
The argument that there should be new democratic assent of our new relationship with the EU, just as there was to embark upon a path of negotiating it, is indeed a superficially convincing one.
If the UK were allowed to leave our negotiation, public opinion may be prone to change, strengthening the case for a second referendum. In the unlikely event of a Brexit being seen as unpalatable enough to be rejected in another referendum, the ensuing volte face would likely be more destabilising than that hypothetical Brexit itself.
Even if damage and instability were objective measures, we must take note that predictions either way are but nebulous speculation, a trap of well-educated but misleading assumptions and conjectures into which political commentators too often fall. Those of us too young to have voted in June 2016 still remember that historic time. A summer of acerbic and unincisive campaigning gave way to a fortnight of chaos, before a government was finally mustered left with the tiring and distracting task of negotiating our terms of departure.
Aside from tearing apart our country just as we are starting to unite, a second referendum also risks abruptly throwing a spanner in the constitutional works before any long term costs and benefits of Brexit appear.
In calling for a second referendum, advocate voices thus run the risk of shrouding citizens, consumers and businesses in the uncertainty they claim to abhor. Laws and economics are crucial, but fundamentally this is a question of psychology and politics. A government is never liked by all, but must be trusted to strive to honour not only its election commitments, but also weightier, rarer and more fundamental forms of democratic assent: referenda.
Perhaps, therefore, the most democratic, and wise, course of action is not forcing a second referendum, but instead enacting the first.