I have been a strong advocate for a second referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU. Now I am not so sure. It is becoming increasingly evident that the general election on 12th December will be a second referendum in all but name.
Had a referendum been held a year ago we might, by now, be half way through the transition period envisaged in Mrs May’s deal, well on the way to developing a new relationship with the EU. Or Brexit would have been cancelled and the government would have been free to concentrate on the many other problems faced by the UK’s residents. Not that I would trust May’s government to implement appropriate solutions to those problems.
No-one can be in any doubt that if Boris Johnson’s Conservatives win a majority in the House of Commons they will forge ahead with their promise to “get Brexit done”. But what if they don’t win that majority? Labour, if elected, will offer a referendum, asking the electorate to choose between a softer form of Brexit and remaining in the EU. That, of course, supposes that they are able to secure the EU’s agreement to such a deal.
In this scenario the election will have already demonstrated a significant decline in enthusiasm for any form of Brexit. So why waste time on another round of negotiations with the EU and another referendum? Much better, surely, for the incoming government to revoke article 50 clearing the way for the implementation of the raft of progressive policies promised by Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists and others.
My fear is that, thanks to Nigel Farage’s determination to lap up as many as possible of the votes from “leave” voting Labour supporters, the Conservatives will take seats in constituencies that Labour would otherwise win.
The success or failure of this strategy will be a further indicator of the level of support for Brexit. If it fails, perhaps foiled by the counter strategy of “Remain” supporting parties standing aside or recommending tactical voting, this will be a clear indication that a majority of the electorate is fed up with Brexit and ready to accept continuing membership of the EU in return for an end to austerity.
I remain a dreamer and an optimist. My dream is that beyond Friday 13th there lies a promise of a progressive coalition of centre left parties willing to take the UK forward, as proud members of the EU, following policies aimed at reducing poverty and helping all residents to realise their full potential as citizens.
My nightmare is another 5 years of wrangling with the EU, whilst austerity and poverty grow, and the divisions already damaging the UK deepen.