Farage calls for Second Brexit Referendum By Stephen Barber
There was perhaps more than the usual hubris to former UKIP leader Nigel Farage's surprise conversion to a 'second' referendum on UK membership of the EU. Sure he misses the headlines and the attention. But this represents a fear by hard line Brexiteers that there are emerging scenarios where Britain simply fails to leave.
Many remain campaigning politicians have called for a second referendum (or 'third' if you like, given that's the first was in 1975, or a 'first' referendum on the terms of the exit deal). There are arguments that the people were sold a false prospectus in 2016, that the meaning of Brexit was unclear, that the people should have a say on the deal the government negotiates or simply that a democracy can change its mind. Up to now the call for a further referendum has come from the so-called 'remoaners' and had limited traction. The intervention by Farage makes it a more likely prospect. And this 'double or quits' approach raises the stakes on both sides.
The Eurosceptic right of the Tory party was for years a vocal but marginal fringe. Since the election where Theresa May carelessly lost her majority, these MPs have hugged the prime minister close as the most effective way of achieving their ambition. But this has had the disadvantage of ceding intelligent discourse to remain inclined politicians who have become rather close knit and increasingly effective - including forcing the government to give parliament a final vote on the deal.
Brexiteers fear a 'stitch up' by the establishment and their great prize slipping away. Polls have indicated a small but consistent lead for remaining in the EU across the population since the summer while support for a new referendum is gaining momentum. Perhaps the biggest obstacle here is the position of the opposition Labour Party where leader Jeremy Corbyn appears rather ambivalent. Labour is also edging steadily to a policy of Britain staying in the single market giving the parliamentary party the freedom to support a future veto of May's deal.
So a second referendum is attractive to remainers and leavers for similar reasons. When the deal with the EU is finally done, it is an opportunity to restate the case for EU membership and ultimately stay inside the club. It's a last shake of the dice. Farage recognises a related danger: That the deal could (and will) be so unattractive that Parliament simply kicks the issue into the long grass and Britain stays in by default. A subsequent general election would muddy the Brexit mandate further and negotiations could go on indefinitely. In these circumstances a second 'take back control' referendum would settle the issue for good even if it means falling off the cliff of hard Brexit.
Stephen Barber is Director of MBA at the University of Bedfordshire @StephenBarberUK