Brexit (In the remote chance you haven’t heard is shorthand for Britain’s exit from the European Union.) is awfully complicated, it turns out, way more complicated than almost anybody anticipated. The countdown clock to Brexit day on March the 29th next year is ticking relentlessly and there is still much to be decided, and as they say in European negotiations, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ The lack of certainty, and real chance that there won’t be a deal struck in time is causing more than a few people to wobble in their opinions.
The vote itself on 23rd June 2016 was an answer to a fairly straightforward, question, ’Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ and to the surprise of more than a few, the UK voted to leave by a margin of 52, to 48%. Way back then nobody really had a clear understanding of the nuances of the outcomes of that momentous decision, and in the thousands of hours of tv coverage, and millions of column inches covering everything from the status of the Northern Ireland border with the Republic, fishing rights, scientific cooperation, trade deals, freedom of movement, the colour of the new passports (a patriotic shade of blue, that will be made in France, no I’m not joking) and a million other bureaucratic wrinkles that have raised their heads, we have all become something of an expert. It also seems that a significant number of people might have changed their minds, which looks like it might add another layer of complexity to the whole complicated mess.
With more or less six months to go we seem to be in the position where the Government is proposing a deal with the EU, known as the Chequers deal, that most leave voters hate as it effectively fudges the result. So we will leave the EU, but as part of the deal will have to continue with many of the restrictions that made leave voters vote leave in the first place. Contrarily, if the UK leaves with no negotiated deal an awful lot of leave voters seem to hate that idea as well as a giant step into the unknown.
An extensive opinion poll at the end of August showed the first real shift in the national position since the referendum. The headline was that given the choice between a no deal Brexit, and remaining in the EU 59% would vote to remain…. Those stats alone raise an important question, quite literally. Should we have another referendum?. The same poll suggested that 50% versus 40% would support a three way second referendum posing a choice between remaining, leaving with a deal, or leaving without one. In short, if this represents the national mood accurately, most people want another referendum, and most people would vote to remain if they get one. As you might imagine this has caused uproar amongst those leavers who still want to leave. With some justification they say that the original outcome was the legitimate voice of the people and that decision must be supported, anything less would be undemocratic, but is it?
It’s easy to forget that the UK joined the EU, then known as the European Economic Community in 1973 and held a referendum on continuing as a member in 1975 which was carried by a landslide. Leave campaigners argued that the goalposts had moved significantly in the intervening 40 years, and millions of people were too young, or not even born then, and should have an opportunity to air their opinions, it’s difficult to argue with that logic. So we seem to have a bit of a dilemma, it’s ok to overturn a democratic decision taken 40 years ago, but undemocratic to question one taken two years ago. As time to negotiate Brexit runs out, the likelihood of it happening without a deal grows, and it is equally likely that more people will be in favour of remaining, surely it is undemocratic to continue down a path with the knowledge that a majority of people don’t want to go down it. Who gets to decide when enough water has passed under the bridge before it’s OK to ask again. We seem to be content to have general elections in most countries after 4 or 5 years to check who has changed their minds since last time, but the Brexit vote isn’t like that. The British people won’t ever get another say on EU membership unless they fight for it, perhaps that fight should start right now while there is still a little time left. As John Maynard Keynes, the great economist of the early 20th century once famously said. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.
By Phill McCoffers – Economics Correspondent