Momentum is slowly building in the British parliament to a hold a second Brexit referendum. But carried out poorly, that might just make things worse.
UNITED NATIONS — Campaigners calling for a second Brexit referendum made their case in a new report on Wednesday, arguing that with lawmakers deadlocked on a Brexit deal just months ahead of Britain’s E.U. departure in March, voters should get another chance to make their preferences known.
Matthew J. Goodwin is a professor of politics at the University of Kent.
“If you look at the House of Commons, there doesn’t appear to be a majority currently for any particular outcome.”
That goes for Prime Minister Theresa May’s current Brexit deal, the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit, a softer Brexit deal known as the Norway Option, or for calling a second referendum.
That could change if Brexit day nears and nervous lawmakers think another public vote could bail them out. Executed poorly, though, that vote could actually make things worse.
Akash Paun is a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, a London think tank.
“If you just had a straightforward repetition of the 2016 referendum question, if the result was another vote in favor of leave, it still wouldn’t necessarily resolve the current political deadlock that we face because there is no agreement on what Brexit should look like.”
There are some creative alternatives, like a two-question referendum in which voters choose again whether to leave the E.U., and if so, how to do it, or a vote that rated different Brexit options in order of preference.
But Goodwin worries even those options ignore the reality of Brexit, that it’s not just the politicians who are divided, but the British public too.
“We’re not seeing that outbreak of mass regret that many predicted.”
And were Brexit to be defeated by the narrowest of margins in a second vote — possibly on lower turnout — the crisis in confidence in the British government could make the current Brexit mess look tidy by comparison.
“We have a political class in Westminster that not only voted to have a referendum on remain versus leave, but also bought forward at our election in 2017 party manifestos that were committed to leaving the European Union. So that is why I think any attempt to go back to the country and have a second referendum possibly overturn the vote to leave the European Union would create a political and constitutional crisis in British politics.”