The case for second chances – the only way out of the Brexit nightmare is to go back to the country

The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians made all decisions twice. In the first round they would get uproariously drunk, have a good old row and – while still heavily inebriated – vote. Then a few days later, having sobered up sufficiently, they would go through the whole process again – before acting on that final decision.

There’s something to be said for deliberating on important matters twice. Behavioural experts have long known that the frenzy of emotions aroused by heated debate can cause individuals to pursue choices that in more restrained circumstances they might not make. The concept of ‘sober reflection’ at the ballot box persists in the modern political age. In France and forty-one other countries Presidential elections are conducted on a two round system which is not so dissimilar to the Persian approach. In the first there is an almost intoxicated free for all in which anyone can stand and anything goes. Then a week or two later there’s a play-off where the candidates with the two biggest mandates go head to head. It’s an arrangement that endeavours to seek compromise but which critically allows time for serious reappraisal. By offering voters a pause for reflection the middle ground is reached.

In most big decision making processes, time for consideration is generally considered to be a good thing – particularly when the decision has financial or life changing implications. The rose clad cottage in a rural location on a sunny day may inspire the eager house-hunter to make an impulsive offer on the spot. But should the survey come back and the dream home turn out to be a rat infested dump with a leaky septic tank well, in Britain at least, you can simply walk away.

Herodotus having a good old think

Make any purchase of goods or services, outside of a store anywhere in the EU and you are granted a minimum 14 day cooling off period – by law. Switch off something as basic as your laptop and it takes more than one click.

And yet – when it comes to the biggest collective political and economic decision in modern British political history – we the British people are currently being offered less opportunity to reconsider our decision than when we choose to delete an app off our phones.

Yesterday in the Commons MPs passed an amendment obliging Theresa May to come up with a Plan B in three days if (or more likely when) her Brexit deal is voted down at the critical meaningful vote on Tuesday 15th. The amendment will allow MPs to come up with alternatives including a People’s Vote. Predictably the very mention of this has led to howls of outrage from hardline Brexiters and members of the ERG. These are the same people who told us that a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest in history and that everything would be absolutely fine. Now these very same individuals seem intent on driving the UK off a cliff in pursuit of their fantasy Brexit; an option that was never on the referendum ballot or even the side of their big red bus.

Whatever your views on Brexit – one thing is absolutely crystal clear. This is a crisis. It is a crisis that began with a referendum and a second referendum on the outcome of what Theresa May has negotiated seems like the logical, fair and democratic way forward.

There are those who say that a second plebiscite would betray the 17.4 million people who ‘have made the decision already.’ To which the only valid response can be: “well in that case why are you so afraid?” Do the Brexiteers no longer trust the people to deliver ‘their’ result? More democracy is never a bad thing. Asking the British people to confirm or reject the deal after nearly three years of negotiation and debate is not only reasonable – but required.

Others argue that perhaps Article 50 should simply be revoked. I think that’s a very bad idea indeed. Any attempt to ‘stop Brexit’ would throw us into even deeper political turmoil.

The public in 2018 are more informed than they were in 2016. They are also, for the most part, heartily sick of the whole thing. A People’s Vote offers a chance for the country to come together in sober reflection draw a line and move on – whatever the outcome. Either way, the people will have spoken.

Brexit is a civil war and a second referendum is the only viable path to a lasting peace

Boris Johnson gave his big speech yesterday and will no doubt give another one next week and the week after that and the week after that until Boris gets what Boris wants – namely the keys to Number 10. This one was supposedly all about the wonderful magnanimous Boris ‘reaching out’ (ghastly term) to the other side – i.e. Remoaners like myself – and selling Brexit as a fabtabulous opportunity. The speech was trailed in that well known Remoaner newspaper, The Sun and there was some stuff about Toblerones and carrots to make sure Boris trended on twitter – which of course Boris did.

Well it’s very good of Bojo to do that thing which I can’t bear to write again but he really wasn’t doing that at all so Boris can do one. Johnson is after an angle any angle in order to get that ghastly Mrs May out and his bonce in and his ‘conciliatory Brexit solver’ schtick is but the latest roll of that dice. If you believed he meant a single word of it then click here

For the rest of you – here’s a confession. I’m sick to bloody death of Brexit. I’m sick of having the same conversations on social media, in the pub, in my kitchen, at my workplace. I’m sick of Mogg, I’m sick of being called a Remoaner, I’m bored to the back teeth of getting bored to the back teeth by it. I’m tired of dancing around the subject with people I’ve just met or don’t really know or have known my entire life. I’m fed up with the friends and family who voted for it and am fed up with myself for feeling fed up with them. I’m sick of Article 50, the gurning Farage, Juncker, Barnier, Boris, the incompetent David Davis and even the BBC. There are a billion other ways I could better be spending my time than arguing with men called Doug on twitter. And yet – here I am – once again writing about bloody Brexit. In essence, if you haven’t quite got my point – I’m not over it – I’m sick and fucking tired of it – but I can’t move on. I suspect that most people in the country are heartily sick of it too. It dominates the news headlines and the national conversation. It’s there – everywhere you look – a political Tesco Metro.

The EU Referendum was essentially a war and principally – a Civil War. The language of the debate, from the off, was loaded with the leitmotifs and themes of armed conflict, WW2 ya da ya da ya da. Churchill has constantly been invoked and claimed by both sides throughout. The Brexiteers talk still of ‘liberation’ and ‘independence.’ Remainers are branded traitors, judges are branded traitors – indeed anyone who disagrees with anyone is branded a ‘traitor’ – I’ve done it myself. (See also Quisling and ‘resistance.’) Farage talked of donning khaki and picking up a gun if his vision of Brexit was not delivered. Whereas in 1940 the Battle for Britain raged in the skies above Southern England, today it rages on social media. There may be little spectacle, fewer deaths and a lot less engine oil in the mix, but all the other necessary elements of brutal engagement remain. Scores are settled. There’s a lot of crash and burn – and crucially – very few people are actually involved.


The Imagery of war

The tabloids and our political masters would have us believe that there are two clear lines between the warring factions in this battle but as in all wars that simply isn’t the case. Most people, whatever they voted, are simply by-standers and are now looking on in horror – or for the sake of their sanity have switched off completely. Talk of a “second referendum” sends a chill through the hearts of many – if not all of us. Most Britons want to ‘just get on with it’ and frankly – who can blame them?

The problem is – and forgive me for my mixed wartime metaphors here – that the people actually doing the fighting are more deeply entrenched and committed to the struggle than ever. The hard-line Brexiteers and the hard-line Remoaners have both dug in – and things are getting nastier. There’s a growing sense that both sides want to win for winnings sake and in the process no longer seem to give a fuck about the countryside around us being blown to (metaphorical) smithereens. This is no longer about the ins and outs of EU membership – it’s about attainment of a final victory. Suggesting that we just stop it and all ‘reach out’ to each other is cloud cuckoo fairyland bollocks. The equivalent of marching out in to the middle of No Man’s Land in 1916 and shouting ‘why can’t we all be friends’ over the barrage of guns.

Brexit is a Civil War – a fight for the soul of Britain

So what to do?

What do you want? I can tell you what I want. I want my kids to be happy and safe and get a bit of education and a job they like and grow up in a prosperous, peaceful, progressive corner of the world. I want this little spit of land on which I have lived all my life to burgeon and be respected and liked. I want to be proud to be British not the butt of some international joke. For any likelihood of that happening this war must end and a peace must be signed. There needs to be an ‘end-game’ and frankly the only chance of that coming is in the shape and form of a second referendum. Just leaving without it won’t work – because ‘the Resistance’ will not go quietly off home and hang up their remoaning socks. A line has to be drawn in the sand.

The situation in 2018 is very different indeed to that of 2016. Most British people are now aware of the intricacies of our relationship with the EU, most people are now better informed and on that basis a second referendum would be fairer than the first.

“But what if we lost?” I’m often asked by people on my side. Well – easy. This time Remainers would be obliged for the sake of the whole country to respect the result and shut up (for a bit). There is no guarantee at all that Remain would win – but a second vote on the deal would at least put this tiresome and protracted engagement to rest.

christmas truce

Of course Nigel Farage wants a second referendum – without the EU he is nothing

So Nigel Farage has told Channel Five’s Matthew Wright that he is: “coming round to the idea of a second referendum.” Farage is a wily goat and he could simply be trying to whip up controversy to reignite his flagging media circus and grab the headlines. On the other hand, if he means it, we are obliged to draw one of two conclusions – either he genuinely thinks that a second referendum would be easily won and that the Remain cause would thus be put to bed for good – or – he’s doing what he always does – thinking about himself and gambling that either way he will win.


In the year and a half since the EU referendum the polls on Leave and Remain have barely budged but what has remained consistent since August 2017 (according to YouGov data) is a belief that the government are handling the negotiations badly with 57% of voters currently believing that things are not going well. May’s government remains unpopular and given that many treated the last EU referendum as a judgment on David Cameron, this would not bode well for the Brexiteers in a binary choice on whether to leave on the terms of the final deal – or remain.

Any second vote would be a high risk strategy and given that his side has ‘won’ a better stratagem might be for Farage to shut up and let us Remoaners shout at the darkness – so why isn’t he doing that?

Simple. Nigel would have nothing to lose from a second referendum. He is essentially a European politician. His career, his alliances and his standing all rest on the very beast that he has spent twenty years claiming he wants to slay. He has done very well out of it indeed. Estimates put his salary at a whopping £241,138 making him one of the best paid politicians in Britain – if not the whole of Europe. Now of course that salary is not made up entirely of his EU pay but crucially his media career is dependent upon his reputation as the figurehead of Brexit. Farage clearly believed that a Trump Whitehouse would lead to a glittering US media career but that has not materialised and after initial, if rather reticent, overtures from Trump the former UKIP leader seems to have been dropped like a hot kipper. The post Brexit future must loom empty and large.

A second referendum thus appeals. If he ‘loses’ he can go back to the old routine and keep that nice MEP package – if he ‘wins’ he can inject new life into his media profile and have another pop at the American gig.

In essence, Farage needs the EU every bit as much as George needed the dragon, as Tom needed Jerry or Syd Little his Eddie Large.

Remainers meanwhile should take succour from this. The battle-ground has shifted considerably since June 2016. The British public are far more aware of the consequences of leaving the EU than previously and the Brexiteer irregulars have depleted and dispersed. This time we would not be so complacent and this time – I believe – we would win.

According to Herodutus, the Persians made all complex decisions twice. At first they would get drunk out of their minds and vote and then – a few days later – when everyone had recovered sufficiently they would do it again sober. In June 2016 Britain held an insane and drunken referendum – let’s take Farage’s lead and do it again – clearheaded.