People's Vote campaigners: be careful what you wish for

6 Feb 2019

It's three years since the EU referendum and we are at the same place as we were June 23rd 2016: Remain versus Leave.


Parliament unanimously rejected Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement by an astounding 230 votes and it is inconceivable that the Brussels technocrats will drop the backstop after they’ve conveyed the strong façade since the negotiating process began back in July 2017.


A general election seems unlikely as parties such as the Lib Dems will not be supporting Corbyn in future motions of no confidence in the Tory government. Therefore, two options remain: either the UK leaves the EU on World Trade Organisation terms on March 29th when Article 50 expires, or there is an extension of Article 50 and, in turn, a second binary 'in' or 'out' referendum.


However, it is perplexing that those advocating for a second referendum - or People’s Vote - have not acknowledged the risks attached to a second vote.


In 2016, the Remain campaign believed that the UK would be better off economically inside the EU, whereas Vote Leave infamously used the devastating rhetoric of ‘Take Back Control’ as their campaign slogan.


Taking back control encapsulated key issues such as immigration, the overarching influence of the European Court of Justice, the annual membership fee to the EU and the customs union. Those three words compounded arguments in a logical, effective style that inspired the minds of the so-called 'ordinary' voter and brought about the change they desired.


Whilst the slogan of Vote Leave was devastating for the Remain campaign in ’16, Tell them Again’ would be seismic. Those campaigning for Remain cannot possibly deny this. A second referendum would signal that the political class failed to implement the wishes of the majority expressed in the 2016 poll – the largest democratic mandate in the UK’s political history on a turnout not seen for 25 years. Imagine the tribal nationalist fury if the Yes campaign won the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and Westminster asked them to vote again as a means of saving their bacon.


By campaigning for a second referendum, the People’s Vote campaign is adopting a classic European Union tactic. The EU is sceptical to public opinion, especially when it goes against the wishes of the Brussels’ key players. The EU Commission brutally implemented an austerity package on Athens after the Greek people rejected the bailout in a referendum, and in France and Netherlands, the Constitution Treaty was rejected in referenda. The Constitution was re-drafted as the Lisbon Treaty and ratified by parliaments. The exception was Ireland who ratified the Lisbon Treaty in a second ratification referendum.


In the event of a second Brexit vote, whilst undoubtedly important, issues such as immigration, trade policy, divorce bill and GDP would become secondary. The primary issue would focus on trust, and a second vote would resonate clearest as a deliberate establishment tactic, insinuating that the electorate voted the wrong way in 2016.


To quote the Prime Minister, nothing has changed. Much to the disdain of fanatical Remain supporters, those who opted for Brexit were not misinformed, racist and were not bigoted. People voted for Brexit because they legitimately felt that globalisation had solely profited the university educated and elite in society. Economic concerns were accentuated by the pressures of an unfair immigration system. The fears which led to the Brexit vote still exist and are considered to be an ‘anomaly’. Despite opinion polls showing a marginal Remain advantage, the political context in 2019 is the same as it was in June 2016.


There is a complete disconnect between the politicians in London and ordinary folk across the UK. Despite second referendum polls showing a marginal Remain advantage, there is an increased risk that another vote would come back to bite the establishment on the backside again.


Undeniably, there are serious risks attached to leaving the EU without a deal, but the convenient rhetoric of 'Project Fear' would not salvage an elitist-driven Remain campaign. Their campaign was rubbished in 2016 as an electoral strategy when then-Chancellor George Osborne tried to scare the electorate into voting Remain. The Treasury concluded that unemployment would increase by 520,000 and economic growth would be between 3 and 6% lower.


Rather, at the end of 2018, unemployment returned to 4%, while the employment rate rose to 75.8%, which was the highest since estimates began in 1971.


Rehashing ‘Project Fear’ is designed to warn the electorate away from supporting a no-deal Brexit. However, it is having the converse effect. The electorate knows when the politicians are lying through their teeth. For example, the Irish Taoiseach referred to a bilateral agreement between the UK and the Irish Republic in the event of no-deal. Whilst in Davos, however, Varadkar foolishly contradicted himself, saying that troops may be required on the border. Come on, Leo, make your mind up!


Not to mention, potential disruption at Dover-Calais was rebutted profusely by the deputy mayor of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau. Politicians needn’t refer to scaremongering if they are convinced by their own arguments.


Those wanting to overturn the 2016 result may get their wish if a second vote was to come to fruition. The costs outweigh the benefits, however. Referenda are unpredictable, especially when it comes to a binary choice. People’s Vote campaigners should be seriously careful of what they wish for because it is not unrealistic to fear a backlash.



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