Though the March deadline is now finally in sight, Britain’s journey towards leaving the European Union seems to be anything but smooth sailing, contrary to what was promised by the Leave campaign in the lead up to 2016’s divisive referendum.
Quite the opposite, in fact, as demonstrated by the vocal opposition Prime Minister Theresa May faced in the House of Commons as she presented her draft withdrawal agreement in mid-November, from both opposition parties and her own Conservatives.
“I’ve never, ever seen in 20 years of parliament, a British Prime Minister so comprehensively attacked from her own side, let alone the opposition,” said Sir Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston. “We gave up counting the people who were attacking her, it was easier to count how many people were supporting her, because there were so few of them.”
With ministers such as Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey resigning left and right in opposition to the draft deal, and the chilly response from MPs a week later to what Jeremy Corbyn called “26 pages of waffle”, it’s safe to say Britain is in political turmoil regarding Brexit.
And in this context of uncertainty and discontent, a number of politicians seem to be jumping on the second referendum bandwagon, with the former Education Secretary Justine Greening even going so far as to suggest this could be held as early as 29 May.
So while calls for a so-called People’s Vote are getting louder, the big question is: is a second referendum likely or just a pipe dream?
What do experts think?
According to veteran British diplomat Lord Kerr, author of Article 50, the chances are quite high. In an interview with Quitte ou Double, he predicted the “vague framework document which will tell us very little about the future” is going to get a negative response from MPs when they vote on it in December – which would be a crucial step towards a second referendum.
“It’ll come to the House of Commons and I think now there’s quite a good chance that they will reject it,” he said. “I think that they’ll certainly defeat the idea of leaving with no agreement, which will create political, economic and legal chaos and be seriously damaging to the economy, so what might happen then, and I think this is the most likely of them all, we’ll have a second referendum.”
However, bringing in a second referendum will likely not be as easy as it might seem. In order for the second public vote to be a viable option, the House of Commons must first reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal on 11 December. This seems possible, as the Labour party will most likely vote against her deal and scores of Conservatives have said they cannot support it.
Following this, Parliament would then need to pass the right legislation as an Act of Parliament. Other options, such as going back to the drawing board and renegotiating the Brexit deal, or having a general election, are also on the table, but seem to be a stretch, given the mood in the rest of Europe. The European Union has repeatedly claimed the draft agreement is “the best and only deal possible”, and the attempt to get Theresa May out from the Tory leadership position with a no-confidence vote has stalled. For these reasons, a number of politicians and experts believe a second referendum is getting more and more likely.
“I think we might get a second referendum, which will be truly horrible,” said Lord Kerr. “It will be socially divisive and prolong uncertainty. But it would be even more horrible and much more damaging in the long run to take the country out of the EU when public opinion polls show the country doesn’t want to leave the EU without having a second referendum, when the public opinion polls show the country does want a second vote.”
Do British citizens actually want a second referendum?
Polls suggest a People’s Vote might also be the will of the British. According to results of a recent poll conducted by YouGov, 56 per cent of British citizens would be in favour of having a second referendum as opposed to accepting the current deal, with 44 per cent against this option.
Some experts believe the shift in public opinion might be a result of citizens being more informed about what Brexit means compared to the first referendum.
Hugo Lucas, deputy director of communications for national agency Our Future, Our Choice said he thought people were more aware now of the reality of Brexit, and knew more about the truths and lies in the process so far.
“To put it this way, I think they are more informed about what Brexit is not,” he said. “Yes, I’d argue they are a bit more educated about that, that it’s chaos and it is a project that is so undeliverable that any attempt to deliver it would only end in a deal like this, but they also very much learned what Brexit is not, and it is not what was promised in 2016.”
The advocacy group, which focuses on educating young people about the importance of politics and working on increasing voting turnout among youth, claims there should be a second vote not only because people now know what Brexit means for the country, but also to allow two million new young voters to have a say in a decision that will “dominate their entire adult lives”.
However, studies also show that British citizens are starting to distrust MPs’ ability to represent their wishes regarding Brexit. A survey carried out by Populus Data Solutions on behalf of the Young Women’s Trust, revealed that out of the 4000 young people interviewed, 50 per cent have less confidence in MPs, whereas two thirds of baby boomers surveyed no longer trust MPs.
Angela Ramsell, owner of a small business in the UK, claimed the current Brexit situation is “intolerable and totally frustrating”. “Since our MPs are failing in their duty to do what is best for the UK, then we need a way of getting out of this mess, so a People’s Vote is a way out. The politicians are doing a dreadful job of scrutiny and we have made the UK a laughing stock globally,” she said.
Despite the 29 March deadline for the Brexit deal to be finalised and for the UK to leave the European Union, many believe everything is still up for grabs and that the only sure thing in the national Brexit debate is how unpredictable everything is.
“What’s going to happen here? We have a Government in meltdown, we have a major, national and international negotiation in meltdown, so nobody knows,” Sir Ed Davey said.