How odd that those who refuse to accept the 2016 referendum result now want another one

How odd that those who refuse to accept the 2016 referendum result now want another one

Since losing the referendum, the irreconcilable Remainers have had a good fightback. They’ve denigrated Brexit as an economic, social, security and trade disaster. They’ve whipped up fear and doubt. They’ve undermined the British negotiating position. They’ve forced the Government back stage by stage until it’s now pleading weakly for far less than the electorate wanted.

Now they’re moving in for the kill with a demand for another referendum. It’s strongly supported by a growing coalition of yesterday’s men, desperate Remainers, worried Tories seeking a soft way out of the mess and Labour MPs who see the EU as a restraint on a party which has moved too far left – as well as Unite and even Momentum, who should know better. The hope of this disparate coalition is to get away with the clever trick Harold Wilson pulled in 1975 by healing divisions with a popular vote.

It’s a little inconsistent that those who opposed the first referendum on the grounds that important matters like the blessings of EU membership are too serious to decided by the hoi polloi now want another. It’s also surprising that those who’ve dismissed the Brexit vote as based on ignorance, racism, Russian manipulation, lies and spending fiddles should now trust an electorate of which they’ve been so contemptuous. But that’s politics. They really want a second referendum as the coup de grace to kill the Brexit dragon.

I can see the reason. The hope is that the people will repent, accept that the elite have been right all along and return to the deference which is their lot. This will be helped by their campaign of fear of doom and disaster and by weariness resulting from the Government’s obvious inability to fulfil the nation’s wish. The idea is that the people will just give up in apathy and return to their box.

They may. Yet the EU’s obstinate procrastination, its contempt for Britain and its bullying threats may have angered an electorate which doesn’t usually like being buggered about. Unlike the predictors of doom and disaster, I’m not a prophet – although I am puzzled over how a referendum can possibly work.

Robert Harris and Nicholas Soames see it as the only way out of a mess: the political elite can’t or won’t solve the problem, so hand it back to the people and ask them to think again. That would be a referendum on the referendum result, opening up the possibility of endless referendums on referendums. “Best of three” might work, suggested someone on Twitter.

In fact it’s difficult to have a referendum until we have an agreement to have it on. We can only know what the new settlement is when the EU comes to a deal. If it agrees one which a government, now desperate to accept anything, finds acceptable, and the electorate rejects that, what do we do then? Try to negotiate a new one with an EU unlikely to budge? Slink back in humiliation? Or accept the one outcome business reportedly dreads – a no deal departure?

If, as is more likely, the EU remains obstinate and pares down Theresa May’s soft proposals even further, then the electorate will be asked to vote for colonial status of regulation without representation or reject it. In that case, our referendum will have been as effective as Tsipras’s in Greece. Again we’d be either out with no deal, euro-serfs, or back, pathetic and humiliated.

Clearly those clutching at a referendum to consolidate a Remain victory or to escape from political chaos haven’t thought things through. Rhetoric about the people’s choice and democratic decision is all very well, but wishful thinking is no way out of Britain’s difficulties. Better to accept that we already have a democratic decision and do our best to implement it. That decision is to Leave. Until we actually get on with that and negotiate seriously to implement it, then anything else is a dream pie in the eurosky. There ain’t any.