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I’d love to stay in the EU – but a second referendum could be bad news

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 October 2018

While I have sympathy for their aims, I'm not convinced a second referendum would solve any problems. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

While I have sympathy for their aims, I'm not convinced a second referendum would solve any problems. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Anyone who has read my columns or seen my tweets over the last two and a half years will be under no doubt that I don’t like the idea of Brexit.

I voted Remain in June 2016. I would vote Remain again if there was another vote tomorrow. I think the result of the vote in 2016 will leave Britain poorer than it would otherwise have been.

If there was any chance of staying in the EU, the Customs Union, or the Single Market I would love Britain to take it.

However after thinking about this for some months I have, somewhat reluctantly, come to the conclusion that a second referendum or “People’s Vote” is not what the country needs and could be a disaster.

One of the main problems with the original referendum was that it addressed none of the complex issues surrounding the questions. This has allowed hard-line Brexiteers to claim that the vote showed the public wanted us to come out without a deal.

No it didn’t, there was no mention of the terms of withdrawal on the ballot paper (and almost none during the campaign leading up to the vote).

Now there is a campaign for a second referendum – but I haven’t heard anyone say what the question should be or how many answers there should be.

As I see it there would need to be three options:

A) Leave the EU with no deal

B) Leave the EU with whatever deal can be cobbled together

C) Stay in the EU.

You would then need to ask voters to put a one or two beside their first and second preferences, with the second preference votes of the least popular answer being added to the first preference of the other two.

That’s rather like the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners – and there is considerable evidence that many voters find that voting system complex and difficult to understand.

But putting aside coming up with a question. What worries me is that a second referendum would just stir up again all the poison and acrimony of the first – and probably multiply it 1,000 times.

The Leave campaign were, at best, disingenuous in many of their claims about the EU and the effect of the vote. Did anyone seriously believe their claims about bringing £350m a week back to the NHS? No one with any knowledge of politics but there is evidence it struck a chord with some naive voters.

And then there was the way Messrs Farage and Johnson leapt into the political gutter to look for votes among those with racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic prejudices.

The weeks after the referendum led to an upsurge in racially-agravated assaults and verbal attacks from really nasty people who saw the Leave vote as an indication that Britain had become less tolerant of foreigners and that their extreme views were more acceptable.

I know the vast majority of Leave voters did not feel that way – but the comparatively small minority made a disproportionate impact.

I worry that if there was a second referendum which might end up going 52-48 to Remain then these nasty elements could grow and we could see some serious civil unrest on the streets from people who felt they had been cheated out of their victory.

What do I want? I’d like to see us end up staying in the Customs Union and Single Market. Will it happen? Not a chance – I think it’s almost certain that we’ll crash out of the EU without a deal.

There is no compromise that will be acceptable to Boris Johnson, Donald Tusk, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Michel Barnier. That will make the country poorer than it would have been had we stayed in the EU, it will push up unemployment (ironically in those parts of the country that voted most decisively for Brexit) and it will diminish the UK’s standing in the world.

But it was the will of the majority of those who went out to vote in June 2016 that we pull out, however unwise and contrary that decision was.

Maybe we should regard the electorate as a naughty child – let them stick their hand in the fire and let it get burned. They’ll learn not to do it again!

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