Two former prime ministers and a deputy prime minister have now stepped forward in support of a second EU referendum on the grounds that we didn’t really know what we were voting for first time around.
All three were passionate in their support for the losing side in June. The notion that we didn’t know what it was really about is, in my opinion, nonsense. The Remain campaign painted the bleakest of prospects for the UK if people voted to leave.
On only one thing were both sides in agreement: the importance of the vote and its finality in settling the question for at least a generation.
Yet, I am a democrat, and voters do have a right to change their minds. I have never favoured that particular species of democracy evident in many less developed parts of the world: ‘one person, one vote, once’ …and rarely, if ever again.
I can’t say, however, I have detected any enthusiasm for re-running the referendum beyond a handful of my constituents. On the contrary, there is a frustration, expressed even by many who voted to remain in the EU, to simply get on with the process of leaving, end the uncertainty, and make a fresh start. I rather suspect that were we to oblige our former prime ministers, the result would be even more emphatically in favour of leaving the EU.
So, I am certainly not afraid of the result of a second referendum, but I do believe it would be deeply damaging to hold out the prospect of having one. The former prime ministers are incredulous that none of their dire warnings of the approaching apocalypse came true after the June referendum, nevertheless they continue to repeat them. Tony Blair says that people will demand a second referendum when they feel the pain caused by the result of the first one. (He is wrong on two counts: I don’t believe in the pain, rather I believe we will prosper; and second, even were there to be the prospect of pain, I think voters have already made up their minds and steeled themselves against it).
The problem is that a second referendum is designed to deliver the very pain that its supporters believe is necessary to deliver a reversal of the previous outcome.
Currently there are increasingly important voices in Europe pointing to the need to negotiate mutually advantageous exit terms with us. A second referendum will silence them and present the hawks – who really want to force us to remain in the union – with an opportunity to negotiate the worst possible terms for our departure, in the misplaced confidence that UK voters will reject them in the final ballot. The consequence will be that the UK will vote to leave anyway, but will do so on terms that will be damaging to Europe, and much less advantageous to us. It would be a spectacular own goal.