Since the morning of 24 June 2016, when it was revealed that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union, supporters of Remain have campaigned tirelessly to try and bring about a second referendum. Support for the so-called ‘People’s Vote’ has gained significant traction in recent months, with many fearing that concessions made by Theresa May’s administration would either leave us in a worse place than when the UK was a member, or that we might crash out without a deal altogether.
Furthermore, a recent Survation poll – the largest conducted since the referendum – suggested that the British public would now vote 54 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU. Despite this growing appetite for a people’s vote, rerunning the referendum would be a futile rejection of democracy that would only increase divisions in the UK.
The key issue with holding referenda is that by their very nature, they are divisive. One might argue that holding a second referendum is actually an extension of democracy. For example, we hold a general election every five years to elect a government, during which time voters may change their minds. On the other hand, holding a second referendum is not the same.
Firstly, the variety of options presented to the electorate during an election through political parties is less divisive than the two options presented in a referendum. One might agree with different parties on different issues and, as such, electing a government represents the art of compromise and even a majority government is still held accountable for its actions by the opposition and its own MPs.
Contrast this with a referendum where you can only vote one way or another, there is no compromise, you are either Leave or Remain. Of course, there are varying degrees of how vigilantly one might support either side, but in the end people have to come down on one side of the argument. In the two years since the referendum, we’ve seen how divisive Brexit has been and negotiations with the EU have been stagnant partly due to an ongoing internal debate about whether we still want to leave or not.
To drag us back into another referendum would only enhance divisions at a time when the UK really should be drawing together in an attempt to make the best of Brexit, rather than trying to re-run or reverse the result of the first vote.
Then there’s the question of where we stop. If we have a second referendum and Remain win, the Leave campaign then be seemingly entitled to a third referendum. Again, I draw on the comparison with elections. In an election, the population have a significant period of time to evaluate the government's policies and then re-vote accordingly at the next election. However, varying degrees of analysis and predictions having been made about the UK's standing post-Brexit and nobody is certain about the outcome. Subsequently, there is no way the electorate can evaluate Brexit as it has yet to occur.
Calls for a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership would be far better positioned years down the line, after we fully understand the socioeconomic impacts of leaving. Any predictions made regarding our withdrawal from the EU are merely speculation, and how wrong have predictions been in the past.
Furthermore, calls for a second referendum utterly disregard the millions of taxpayers’ money that have currently gone into securing a withdrawal from the EU. A March report issued by the Institute for Government suggested that as much as £400 million had already been spent on negotiations, with that figure estimated to rise to £900 million by the start of 2019.
I am by no means suggesting that the UK should be prepared to jump off a no-deal Brexit cliff edge simply because we have already invested a significant sum. Yet, if a deal is secured, it would be incomprehensible to block a decision that received the majority support of the people and received vast amounts of funding with only speculated outcomes to judge it on.
Despite reports suggesting that some progress has been made towards securing a deal in the past week, the lingering issue of the Irish border remains the key problem in negotiations. Last month, Theresa May indicated that 95 per cent of the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement had been negotiated, with the Irish border remaining the only significant issue unsolved.
With this being said, both sides remain optimistic that a deal can be reached in the coming days or weeks. Ultimately, now is simply not the time to be calling for a second referendum. A people’s vote would significantly damage the national interest at this stage of negotiations, whilst fundamentally enhancing the already existing divisions in society on the issue of Brexit.