Don’t be fooled: another referendum would be an unacceptable confidence trick

Don’t be fooled: another referendum would be an unacceptable confidence trick

The People’s Vote (or to use its real name “A vote by some people to cancel the votes of more people”) is becoming the universal solution to our great Brexit deadlock. It’s the fig leaf of Rampant Remainers.

They hope that it will solve the problems of a whole range of groups: Remainers who want to reverse the 2016 referendum; elitists who think the people are too stupid to be allowed referendums; politicians who can’t cope and want to pass the problem back to the people; and soft-hearted Labour folk who don’t want to leave the EU but don’t want to be seen defying democracy.

It might achieve all of this if a fed-up electorate gives up or stays away. It might not, particularly if EU intransigence angers the people, though Remainers are so desperate they’re prepared to take that risk. Even then it won’t be easy. There has to be some agreement on withdrawal passed by Parliament before the electorate can vote on it. There’s no sign of getting that unless Labour agrees to vote for May’s dodgy deal, provided she agrees to a referendum to reject it. I don’t see even Tom Watson being that duplicitous.

That’s why there’s now talk of a three-pronged choice between Remain, a no-deal departure and May’s dodgy deal. This would have the virtue of splitting the Brexit vote and driving Brexiteers into a coral, though it could also be seen as what it is: a confidence trick. It also raises the question of timing. Given that we’re all now pledged “Scout’s honour” against it, “no deal” can only arise if the EU forces it on us. By which time a British vote would be impotent to stop them.

Nor could it heal the divisions as Labour’s 1975 referendum did. Like Humpty Dumpty, today’s main parties are too divided for that. Referendums favour the status quo. Back then, one held before entry would have voted against it, but Labour’s, held after entry, worked the other way. The fact that 2016’s vote against the status quo shows just how strong hostility to the EU really is. Another, held after being effectively kicked out, is likely to compound that.

That’s conjecture but because a second referendum is so obviously a confidence trick to push the public back into their box, its verdict wouldn’t be acceptable to those who don’t want to go there. Nor could it assuage our bitter divisions or restore respect for a political elite that’s so obviously proved incompetent. The war would go on, with increasing bitterness and greater public frustration.

Finally, spare a thought for the consequences if the vote kept us in the EU. This wouldn’t be a prodigal’s return with kisses from Juncker, Selmayr and the ever lovely Verhofstadt. It would be a humiliating crawl back by a country which had failed, whose elite had so discredited itself that it would have to put up with anything the EU cared to impose. Not a happy homecoming to something that is more a house of correction than a home.

The “Some People’s Vote” may appeal to the soft-hearted and the soft-headed. Remainers may see it as their only way out, and the political elite as a cover for their own failure. Yet none of this can justify it as democratic when it’s an obvious political fiddle to evade the decision of the people by asking some of them to solve a problem our politicians so manifestly can’t.