• Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

Would a second referendum on Brexit turn a divided country into a riotous one?

ByHarry Caine

Jan 28, 2019

If your Twitter timeline is like mine, you’ll understand how easy it is to get swamped into the day-to-day soap opera in Westminster: the name-calling, the blame games, the Punch & Judy politics, which would be a laugh if it wasn’t all so real. Sometimes one needs to zoom out and think of the long-term state of the country’s welfare, the disharmony that currently exists between us all.

The polarisation of recent years has created divisions (both geographical and generational) which feel irreparable at this moment in time. This was never about the European Union (EU), not really. It has been about competing visions of what this country should look like – visions which pollsters and the commentariat have boiled down into boxes of “closed/nationalist tendencies” vs “open/globalist tendencies”. Would it be accurate for every single one of the 33,551,983 people that voted in the referendum in 2016 to be labelled as being in one of these two groups? No, of course not, but this is the best we can do in even beginning to approach an analysis of the public mood.

So, the big question: how can we heal these divisions? The government’s efforts at making a deal are indeed the worst of both worlds for the country. One doesn’t need to call on Nostradamus to know that whatever is brought back to parliament will not only fail to pass in the Commons but will also fail to heal the wounds felt by Remainers and Leavers nationwide. To paraphrase one of her predecessors, Theresa May has attempted to please everyone all of the time, and, needless to say, failed in this aim. So that leaves, pretty much, the prospects of leaving the EU without a deal, and a second-referendum.

A ‘No-Deal’ Brexit, if predictions are right, will lead to a nigh-on certain economic downturn as the rise on the tariffs of EU imports hurt the wallets of businesses and citizens across the country. Some £341 billion of EU goods and services were imported into the UK in 2017, while £274 billion of UK goods and services (44% of the UK’s exports) are traded with the rest of the EU. World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs can only be harmful to trade between the UK and the EU, while substitute trading partners with significant demand for the UK’s services are simply non-existent. Any student of international trade will understand that bilateral agreements take time to ratify and that a prospective partner will be able to exert as much pressure as it wishes, knowing the UK will be out of options. These dire consequences will not help to address the concerns of leavers, while remainers, knowing they were right, will be protesting in an unprecedented number. It is hard to see any other possible consequence.

This leaves the notion of a second referendum. Of course, there will be hysterical shrieks from the pro-Brexit European Research Group and other pressure groups who have been banging on about the EU since Maastricht. And while we do not have complete information on what leaving would look like, we surely have a better idea now than we did when a certain red bus was touring the country.

The clincher is this though: if the remain option wins and things carry on as they did pre-June 23rd the anti-EU feeling will amplify to a deafening level. What needs to happen is a commitment to investing in the deprived areas that voted to leave, a commitment to make globalisation work in a way that helps all rather than just those who live in the right places and went to the right schools. This does not mean limiting migration but instead changing the circumstances which create the space for people to blame immigrants for their legitimate problems and concerns. The level of economic and social inequality has reached a level so high that a government of any persuasion should be able to justifiably make these investments. While certain cliques in the upper strata of societal influence will be aghast at this, it will be something that the rest of us could finally get behind.

Image: Elliott Brown via Flickr

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