Are remainers truly ready to overturn Brexit?
Tom Watson’s call for Labour to “unequivocally back Remain” in a potential second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU makes him the latest major politician to champion an end to Brexit.
The deputy Labour leader joins the likes of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, and Green MP Caroline Lucas, as well as many Lib Dem and other parliamentarians, some of whom have spent this year criss-crossing the floor of the House of Commons as they refuse to heed voters’ instruction to leave.
It is to the credit of the People’s Vote campaign that the prospect of a second referendum to overturn the first has survived the tortuous Brexit negotiations, especially given the lacklustre Stronger In campaign that bungled the remain argument. Yet in the last fortnight it is the parliamentarians that have kept the dream alive.
The seemingly-successful blocking of an October no deal exit by Parliament, combined with Labour’s commitment to a second referendum, means a general election could see the next government put the question of EU membership back to the public. While there is some debate what the leave options would be, everyone pursuing the second vote expects remain as a choice.
My cynical view of the People's Vote campaign is it has always been a disguised attempt to void the last referendum, but its intentions have become clearer in recent months. A BuzzFeed report in July said leaked messages showed campaign chiefs arguing over whether it should come out as explicitly pro-remain, rather than merely pro another referendum.
Those championing this cause are urged on by radical remainers, a disparate collection of protest movements such as Our Future Our Choice and SODEM who can muster hundreds of thousands of protestors for weekend demos. They even have their own newspaper in the form of The New European.
Ever since the referendum was called these remainers have blamed everything but public opinion of the EU for the result, despite Michael Ashcroft's polling at the time of the vote showing sovereignty was the biggest concern for leave voters.
The catalogue of alleged causes of the leave vote has since been converted into a shopping list of reforms for Britain should Brexit be stopped. Among the proposed measures for assuaging disappointed leavers are greater investment in public services, more work on regional equality, and more devolved powers for local government.
Such things might be welcomed by those struggling to get by. But none of them can compensate people for their vote being annulled because powerful people disagreed.
For all the remainer warnings about free market Brexiteers' dreams for Singapore-on-Thames, it is Brexit blockers who seek to create a technocratic state where democrat control over the government is traded in for promises of security and comfortable living standards. Is this the country they wish to live in?
Eurosceptic newspapers like the Sun have warned any overturning of Brexit could provoke riots. I am sceptical that many leavers would resort to that, but it is certain British democracy and perceptions of it abroad would be damaged if Britain were to remain in the EU, even if this was facilitated by a second referendum.
The Europhile habit of rerunning national referendums that yield the wrong result is an established joke among those who care for democracy. Even if remainers can overturn the first referendum via a second, and solve the ills that allegedly contributed to the leave vote, they must contend with the justifiable perception that the British ruling class refuses to let people control their political futures.
The cost to democracy and principle is too high to justify it. Remainers should stop before they do lasting damage to their country.