Since June 2016 I have believed that a second referendum, a ‘People’s Vote’ or whatever spin has been put on it, would be a constitutional nightmare for the country. That fear has not gone away.
It now seems, however, that holding another public vote may be the only way for Government to responsibly move forward.
I voted Remain in 2016. I had just returned from my Erasmus exchange in the Czech Republic. It seemed at the time that I had been living in a pro-European Union bubble with other like-minded people on the continent, far-removed from the divisive campaign ran back in the UK.
Like many young people, I had spent time directly reaping the benefits of EU membership on the Erasmus programme. I was devastated with the result of the referendum, but I was never in any thought that the vote should not be honoured.
Since then, I have listened with absolute disagreement to the argument of those on the People’s Vote campaign. While I share their issues about how the referendum was run — lack of understanding, circulation of mistruths — I have always felt that going back to the people would be an unbelievably dangerous thing to do.
I also think those who have spearheaded the People’s Vote campaign have done so with the intention of reversing the result of 2016, regardless of whether they admit it.
Flash forward to 2019, however, and the country stands at an impasse. Parliament, and indeed our embattled Prime Minister, have made it abundantly clear that the Draft Agreement as it stands will not make it through the House of Commons. The EU, in the meantime, has made it just as clear that it will not move on points of contention in the draft, including the Northern Ireland backstop.
Giving the vote back to the public might be the only way to responsibly move forward. Forward, that is, but not towards the cliff edge of WTO rules.
My concerns over a second referendum have not changed. I am still fearful that the powers which created the decision in the first place — the Johnsons, the Farages, the Rees-Moggs — would deliver exactly the same result this time round. Now, pro-Brexit forces could be armed with a deeper, more aggressive message: ‘your country, your politicians, your representatives, have not listened to you’.
A significant hurdle might also be exactly what goes on the paper:
Remain or Leave (again)?
Remain or Leave (but not fully leave) or Leave (fully leave)?
Leave (May’s Deal — which is not actually possible because MPs won’t vote for it) or Leave (crash out)?
The possibilities are endless.
The best outcome of any second referendum would be a decisive win for a particular side with a far higher turnout than 2016. Anything else would cause a constitutional crisis unlike anything we have seen in decades. Imagine, for example, a 52:48 Remain victory with a turnout of 2 million less than 2016? What sort of answer would that give us?
2019 is set to be a year of political fireworks.
If/when May’s Deal is rejected will we, for example, have a Corbyn Government enforcing an extension of Article 50? A new Tory PM, perhaps, leading us into a second referendum? A new Tory PM, more worryingly, ploughing ahead with a WTO-rule Brexit?
The possibilities seem somewhat endless. It does beg the question of just how far the country has come in two years that the most serious option is to now do the whole thing again.