A Second Referendum: Have we learnt anything
We can all remember the moment we woke up to discover that Britain had advocated to leave the EU. It was a moment of surprise and shock, many (at least in the major cities) had not expected the vote to take the turn that it had. Yet travelling around various parts of England, the more locals in small towns that you have a conversation with, the more you begin to understand why the vote went the way that it did. People of various ages, incomes and demographics voted to leave the EU, for a variety of reasons.
In London however, the concept of leaving the EU then, as it does now, seems ludicrous. This thought process is what has given birth to the momentum behind a second referendum. But here lies a problem, to win a second referendum, large swathes of voters would have to change their minds in parts of Britain that said no the first time to the arguments of a government with a healthy majority and a decent bench of senior politicians backing Remain, along with the Bank of England’s advocacy and large dollops of expert opinion.
Unfortunately, the debate has now moved to a point where there are two categories of those who wish to remain. Alleged “Remoaners” are becoming a tribe distinct from the “Remainiacs”. Remoaners want a Brexit that is as close to EU membership as possible. You can sense their frustration in discussions because the Government seems to have been unable to ward off the most damaging form of departure from the EU. Remoaners are slightly more pragmatic, seeking as little damage as possible to the UK economy.
Then we have Remainiacs. These are the people who believe the Leave result happened in a moment of national forgetfulness or amnesia. They blame the result on the play of dark forces, and believe that it can be undone simply by re-running the vote, with an expected mea culpa from the voters. It’s this unfortunate naivety that reduces their credibility; rather than arguing about the Brexit we should have, they would rather pretend it hadn’t happened in the first place.
However, the biggest issue the vote-againers face is one of strategy. This is a dilemma embodied by George Soros’s donation to Best for Britain, a prominent anti-Brexit group: is that they will most likely run pretty much the same campaign as the one they lost in 2016. The strategy so far consists of convening high-flying former government figures (Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson), civil servants (an array of outraged permanent secretaries), scions of major institutions (Mark Malloch Brown, formerly deputy secretary-general of the United Nations) and now big cats of finance (Soros), attempting to unravel the messy threads of Brexit. These people of course have an array of exceptional experience, but they prove the point of why people voted Brexit in the first place; they are the wealthy elitists who have largely benefitted from the EU at the expense of those outside London.
George Soros has dedicated considerable time and money to many admirable causes and having seen the atrocity of World War II, an Open Europe is clearly important to him. But his arguments against Brexit show the peculiar tone-deafness to the implications of super-wealthy folk piling cash into movements that are supposed to be crowdfunded (the clue is in the name). The argument that Britain is important to you because you “have a house in London” is one of those things global elites say without realising that it makes most people roll their eyes. Even the name of “Better for Britain” has the patronising tones of “we know what’s best for you.” Soros concludes that a new referendum would need to show “Britain’s attitude towards Europe has fundamentally changed”. Yet he also believes the tipping point needs to be reached in the next six months. It is, perhaps a little too big an ask.
It is hard to see a clear solution to Brexit amidst some of the fog, it has not been a clean process, which naturally means people begin to question if it was right in the first place. The biggest concern however is that a second referendum seems to display a sense of naivety about why the public voted to leave in the first place. The campaign to keep Britain in the EU will not work if it is fronted by elites, yet even now, that seems to be where it’s headed.