By William J. Furney
Surely one of the overarching ironies in the long-running and sorry saga that is Brexit is that the prime minister who is attempting to deliver the people’s choice of splitting from the European Union never believed in such a monumental divorce in the first place.
But Theresa May considers it her “duty” to make good on the will of the majority when the British people voted 51.9 percent against 48.1 percent to sever decades-long ties with the EU during the seismic referendum held in June 2016. Aftershocks from that tumultuous ballot continue to be felt, and over two and a half years down the line and with the March 29 leaving date ever-nearer, there is no resolution and no one knows what will happen.
The steadfast Mrs May, of course, thought she had it all worked out, but after Brussels signed off on her Brexit deal last year, including the contentious and oddly named “backstop” agreement to avoid a perilous hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic that could threaten the Good Friday Agreement that finally brought peace to North, her fellow parliamentarians scuppered the plan with a resounding no-thanks this week. Now, at the Brexit 11th hour, it’s all back to a sad square one.
Not only is the prime minister insistent on delivering Brexit because that was the result of the referendum, she also wants to uphold the process of a democratic vote. The people voted, we got a result — now get on with it. What happens, she argues, if we hold a second referendum on Brexit, as many have been demanding, and we get the same result — hold another and keep doing it until we reach some kind of voting equilibrium?
The problem is that Brexit is such a gargantuan mess and the impact of the UK leaving the EU without deals on trade and everything else could well be catastrophic for Britain, its neighbouring nations and the wider Europe. Governments are talking about readying their armed forces, stockpiling food and medicines and the possibility of a complete breakdown in travel — aviation especially — between the UK and European countries. Mrs May’s government had once cheerily talked about having dozens of trade and other agreements with European countries in place by now, but as we stand, there isn’t a single one.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’s working all-out to try and ensure that if Brexit does go ahead — and Mrs May has said it could be either “no deal or no Brexit” — the UK leaves with agreements on how to carry on doing business with Europe.
“I will work until the very last day to get a solution with a deal for Britain’s exit from the EU and I will work towards having the best relationship,” she said.
“We have a responsibility to shape a divorce process so that people don’t shake their heads at us in 50 years time and say why weren’t they in a position to make a compromise?”
These, however, are no ordinary Brexit-blues days. Many Brits who voted to leave the EU have since said they felt they were lied to by people like Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, who prior to the vote said, among many things, that the billions the UK was paying in EU fees each year would instead go to the cherished and perennially underfunded National Health Service. That apparent vow turned out to be one whopper of a lie. Plus, as things currently stand, the UK will have to give the EU a divorce payment of £39 billion.
So should there be a second referendum on Brexit, so at least the very fetid air could be cleared? Many, apart from the opposition Labour party under insipid and wildly uninspiring leader Jeremy Corbyn, are hopeful there might be. The leave date would have to be extended beyond March, for several months at least, as the British parliament would need that time to enact legislation for a new vote as well as to allocate an official campaigning time for a new referendum.
If it did go ahead, it’s likely a Remain vote would win. That’s according to the results of a new YouGov survey that for the first time puts those who would vote to stay in the EU 12 points ahead of those who would opt out — the largest margin ever in such polling.
There’s so much vitriol, uncertainty and real prospect for chaos that a second vote should be the only real option for Mrs May to consider as she desperately tries to rework her failed breakaway proposal.