“Calls for a second referendum are, at least for the foreseeable future, untenable”Liberal Democrats Hastings

Politicians and commentators alike have repeatedly suggested that we should have a second Brexit referendum. They argue that the Leave campaign lied to and misled the British public leading up to the referendum. They claim that having seen the difficulties in the current negotiations people can see the error of their ways and that they are prepared to reconsider the choice they made on the 23rd of June. However the evidence suggests that since the result, support for leaving the EU has only increased. A second referendum would remove any confidence that broad sections of society have in our political system. Although many of us don’t like it, we have to respect the original result. We should instead concentrate our efforts on arguing for a softer Brexit.

 The push for a second referendum on Brexit emerged soon after the result of the first. It first came about as an online petition from a Brexit supporter who demanded that if less than 60% voted for the winning side this would trigger a second referendum. It was only after the shock result that it gained any noteworthy support, presumably from disappointed Remain voters. Over just a few weeks 4.1 million people signed the online form. I was one of them. It was the action of someone desperate to avoid Brexit at all costs and was based on a hope that people would change their minds. I now realise that a second referendum is no longer a credible suggestion and that despite the way I voted, leaving the EU is almost inevitable at this stage.

 “But why?” you may well ask. It is true that the result of the referendum was very close. The mantra “we are the 48%” was used by Remain supporters to highlight how the country was split right down the middle. However, there is no longer any such 48%. Part of the reason why we cannot go back on the original vote is simply because there is no public appetite. The Liberal Democrats’ underwhelming performance at the last election was a rebuke of their case for a second referendum. Polls have repeatedly shown that since the referendum a large proportion of Remain voters have accepted the result and believe that the Brexit process should go ahead. An increased majority now favour Brexit; a second referendum result would be a waste of time.

“Another referendum would make a mockery of democracy”

More important than this is the fact that a second referendum would further fray the (already lacking) trust the public have in our political system. Disillusionment with politics is a serious issue and if the government returns to the public with another referendum and says “wrong answer, try again”, any respect for politicians and any belief in our democracy would be irreparably undermined. People expect politicians to follow the results of national decisions and if the government was seen to be reneging then the consequences could be very serious. Another referendum would make a mockery of democracy and would be especially unwise when there is no overwhelming public support to remain.

 There is now almost total political consensus that Brexit has to be carried through. The referendum was promised as a once-in-a-generation decision and with acceptance of the result, the political scene has moved on. Activists who point out that if 16-year-olds were able to vote, the result may have been different are missing the point. By demanding another round of voting on Brexit, these people are only helping the case of the hard Brexiteers. As they call for another referendum, the Brexit process is still very much ongoing. Without challenging current developments towards Brexit we are simply giving reactionaries a blank cheque. Those rehashing the debates of the referendum are destined for the side-lines in a political landscape where the question is no longer “should we leave?” but “how should we leave?”


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Committed Remainers should instead be making the case for a soft Brexit. The kind of deal we leave with is still up for debate and this is where efforts should be concentrated. This is especially important in the light of recent comments from Conservative MPs suggesting that we should leave with no deal. It is vital that we do not get distracted by this second referendum debate and that we ensure that the deal we leave with safeguards our economy and retains our human rights.

Calls for a second referendum are, at least for the foreseeable future, untenable. Perhaps in five, ten years’ time, if Brexit follows the way of the doomsayers then public opinion will have shifted enough for a re-entry. What is more important for the moment though, is that we hold the government to account over their negotiations and get the best deal possible. Remainers should not be flogging a dead horse, but looking to the future and trying to ensure that we remain close to the EU and avoid a hard Brexit. It is more important that we are pragmatic and pressure for a softer Brexit, rather than relive the battles of the referendum whilst we slide off the hard Brexit cliff edge.


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