The problem with a second EU referendum

What makes anyone think a new referendum on the EU would finally put the issue to bed?

The last thing he wanted was another referendum on the EU, but Nigel Farage now concedes it might be inevitable.

“Maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership.”

While the former UKIP leader could just be doing anything to stay in the limelight, it does seem like a second vote is getting more likely.

In Britain voting has started to become an annual thing. Most Brits won’t exactly be thrilled to be dragged to the ballot box again.

Nor has the Brexit issue gone away after they were promised a referendum would settle the matter.

As Emma Ross-Thomas writes in Bloomberg, it’s starting to look like a “neverendum”.

A second referendum on EU membership may be on the cards.

What makes anyone think a new referendum on the issue would, as Farage says, “kill it off for a generation”?

A second vote is getting more likely

Despite the close contest they fought in 2016, both Remain and Leave advocates are convinced they’d comfortably beat their opponents in a rerun.

Remain will demonstrate how much worse the British economy has fared since the Brexit vote. Leave will counter that the impact has been smaller than expected.

And round and round we go.

Though a majority of Brits doesn’t feel much for going to the ballot boxes, it is getting more likely Remainers and Leavers will square off once more.

A lot of that has to do with the winning side warming to the idea of a new contest. Convinced his side would win, Nigel Farage wants to put the matter to bed once and for all.

“Others, of course, have called for a repeat vote before,” writes Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg.

“But while former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s voice is irrelevant, Farage’s is not.

“For a replay to be legitimate, the winning side should be up for it.”

The bookies immediately slashed the odds of a new referendum from 10-1 to 5-1 after Farage’s comments.

In the end it’s the government that decides whether or not the British people will get another vote, most likely on the final deal negotiated with Brussels.

Though it’s not planning to hold another referendum, the government may find it’s the only way to avoid an impasse.

A majority in parliament favours staying in either the EU’s single market or customs union. Most government ministers argue that isn’t really leaving the EU.

It’s not just Tory Europhiles who could blow up the deal. So can May’s Northern Irish coalition partner, the DUP, if the Irish border issue isn’t dealt with satisfactorily.

So it’s not unthinkable parliament will reject the final deal on the table.

While parliament shouts “this isn’t what people voted for!” and the government retorts with “yes, it is!”, the British people might be asked to settle the issue again.

For now the government maintains a second referendum on EU membership is not going to happen, but governments say a lot of things.

May wasn’t going to hold a snap election – until she did. The PM was opposed to a transition period – until she agreed to let everything stay more or less the same until 2021.

May rejecting the idea of a new EU vote now is no guarantee she won’t hold one later on if it suits her government.

A new referendum wouldn’t solve anything

The main advantage of a vote on the final deal is that it would take away most of the ambiguity that existed last time.

Unlike the 2016 referendum, the government could present a clear vision of post-EU Britain to the people. No such blueprint existed before.

“UK voters had no idea what leaving the EU would mean in real life. The government itself had only a vague idea what would happen,” argues Leonid Bershidsky.

“The key missing element of the puzzle in 2016 was how the UK’s trade partners, both inside and outside the EU, would handle Brexit.”

A new vote is unlikely to be held before 2020 since Westminster will have to agree a new trade relationship with Brussels first.

That should give the British public more time to understand what Britain’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world will be like going forward, the argument goes.

The problem with a new EU referendum is that it isn’t going to resolve the issue.

Remain’s economic arguments failed to win it last time and immigration is still a major issue on which the EU won’t budge.

It would still be hard to predict how the British economy would fare in the long run while it’s equally hard to answer what the EU will look like in a decade or so.

If nothing fundamental has changed in the debate, why should we expect a whole different outcome?

Take last year’s election. Prime Minister May’s party won the election but lost its absolute majority over its ‘hard Brexit’ stance.

It seems a majority of Brits want to go through with Brexit, though not in the disruptive manner the government initially had in mind.

A new referendum probably won’t tell us anything we don’t already know. At the same time it could undermine Britain’s negotiating position if ‘the will of the people’ was called into question.

More politicians are calling for a do-over but from the public we hear no such call. Last week a ComRes survey showed most Brits don’t think there should be another referendum.

Maybe, just maybe, calls for a second referendum on the EU should wait until the people decide they want to have another say.

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