It was grossly unclear what people were voting for the first time around.
If Brexit was partly the result of decades of neglect from an out of touch elite blind to the millions left behind by neoliberal globalisation, it was also in part the result of a campaign built on misinformation and false promises.
One of the Leave camp’s biggest howlers reared its floppy blonde head again last week when Boris Johnson declared £350 million a week for the NHS was grossly underestimated in what would be his second most ridiculous statement of the week after Boris Bridge.
Another great promise of the Leave campaign was that voting for Brexit meant reclaiming sovereignty for the British Parliament.
That too is yet to bear fruit, with Parliament denied any real say over the shape of Brexit and MPs likely to get little more meaningful a vote than no deal or a bad deal.
That’s why I support Leave campaigner Adrian Yalland’s High Court challenge which would give MPs a vote on whether or not the quit the single market instead of dropping out of it automatically when we exit the EU.
It’s essentially a vote between hard and soft Brexit and in this context, votes don’t come much more meaningful than that.
“An unaccountable domestic government is no more acceptable than an unaccountable European one. This is not the Brexit I voted for,” Yalland said in an interview with Business Insider, continuing:
“Those Brexiter MPs who have campaigned for the restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty but who do not now seek to exercise it are demonstrating nothing other than rank hypocrisy.”
Quite right, too.
As Left Foot Forward revealed last week, 60% of people believe the UK should remain in the single market, versus only 16% who believe the UK should quit.
There is clearly no appetite for the kind of Brexit the government is forcing upon us. There is, however, popular backing for MPs to avert a hard Brexit likely to fall hardest on the country’s poorest people and most deprived regions.
But, if we were to remain in the single market, accepting the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour but surrendering our right to political influence in the union, it begs the question why leave at all?
There are some MPs who have asked this question in different ways. Just days after the referendum, David Lammy said:
“We can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament. Our sovereign Parliament needs to now vote on whether we should quit the EU.”
There’s no chance of that happening. MPs wouldn’t dare ignore the result of the referendum, nor should they – to do so would be to further entrench the anger and divisions the referendum exposed.
But sticking steadfast to a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mantra is every bit as dangerous to social cohesion if Brexit does, as expected, hit the British economy and if, as is ever thus under a Tory government, it is the marginalised who suffer most.
I don’t want to see Brexit overturned on the whim of MPs against the will of the people. But nor do I want to see the government walk us off a cliff. That’s why we need a second referendum.
Not to repeat the binary choice of 2016, but on the concrete terms of Brexit Theresa May presents before the country at the end of the fraught negotiation process.
Even without the deliberate misinformation spread by the Leave campaign, it was never clear exactly what people were voting for.
From the socialism in one country espoused by the Lexit camp to the arch neoliberal dystopia of UKIP and the Tory hard right, there are numerous competing visions of what a Britain outside the EU would look like.
And thanks to David Davis’ dereliction of duty, there’s still little to show what each would look like.
A second referendum once a deal has been negotiated, or not, would provide a clear choice between remaining in the EU and a vision of Brexit with tangible consequences, not the fantasy land painted by Boris and Nigel.
The British people need to make the choice, not the government, and not MPs. That’s what taking back control means.
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