There are perhaps 16 million people who voted Remain and are now very unhappy at the decision to leave the EU. Feelings are so strong there are calls for a second referendum – 3 million signing a petition for a 2nd referendum.
However, if the initial referendum was over-turned, you would have 17 million very unhappy and angry Leave voters, who would feel democracy and their voice was betrayed. And if Remain won the second referendum, you could easily make a case for ‘best of three’ – Though once you have a taste for referendums perhaps they could be run simultaneously with referendums on Yorkshire Independence and whether the English football team should permanently retire from major international competitions.
I like divisive, painful referendums as much as the next economist, but you can have too much of direct democracy.
I think the referendum was a bad idea (I believe in Parliamentary democracy) and I really want to stay in EU. As the economy struggles in the next few months, the cost of leaving the EU may seem increasingly high. But, the political cost of ignoring the initial ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum would also be very high.
Also, once you’ve started to burn your bridges in Europe, you cannot just expect everything to go back to normal. We may already have passed the point of no return, even if we haven’t started Article 50. In Europe’s mind we have left, and it feels pretty definitive.
For all the faults of the EU referendum campaign it was an exercise in democracy. Democracy may have limitations – lack of impartial evidence, false promises, voters not turning up, not being informed e.t.c. But, we had a referendum and we made a choice. The young may feel betrayed with 74% of 18-24 year olds voting to remain, but the other side of the coin is the young had the lowest turnout. The EU referendum may prove a painful lesson to the costs of political apathy.
The only thing I would say is that you could make a case for saying the UK should vote (either in referendum or general election) on the deal politicians bring back. Because the Brexit deal the UK gets because is likely to be very different to what people were promised or expected would happen.
In a simplified form, the UK will be trying to get either:
- Stay in Single Market (EEA) like Norway. Pay money to EU, free movement of labour, free trade. (For most people underinterested in petty EU regulations – Not actually that much change to current situation)
- Leave Single Market. Pay no money to EU, UK has own immigration policy, tariffs and a kind of isolation from Europe.
- 3rd option. UK gets everything it wants. Own immigration policy, free trade, no payment to EU. The problem is this really will not happen.
My feeling is that, if the UK does enter a recession as a result of Brexit uncertainty, the ‘courage’ to leave the Single Market becomes increasingly unlikely and difficult. Already Boris Johnson is talking of staying in the Single Market, though it simultaneously is pretending to (himself and / or others) the UK can have it’s own immigration policy.
But, unless the UK does leave the Single Market to have its own immigration policy, the majority of Leave voters will feel betrayed. Because that’s why they voted Brexit.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way out. But, I feel the decision has been made.
- Personal blog on issues of dealing with a divided nation – at Tejvan.co.uk