As the ticker-tape settles on Jeremy Corbyn’s show-stealing speech to close the most avidly-watched Labour conference in decades, and some commentators laud him as a bona fide PM in waiting, the turnaround in prospects for Corbyn’s Labour has been so historically dramatic that Ryanair must be desperate to hire him to manage their PR. But one question mark still managed to hang over proceedings. Were we really hearing the first major rumblings from within Labour of an approaching second Brexit referendum?
Deputy leader Tom Watson refused to rule one out. Corbyn himself – a proven master at the diplomatic dance over the crossed swords of Brexit, having united party and public alike with his delicate balancing act between respecting the referendum result and taking a Euro-friendly Soft Brexit approach to the deal-making – promised “unimpeded access to the Single Market”. But loudest of all, Sadiq Khan told the Evening Standard that he would press for a second referendum to be included in the next Labour manifesto, since he couldn’t see a deal emerging that would be good enough to accept without going to the country.
Thus an idea that was previously only trumpeted by the Liberal Democrats – and even then might as well have been called the Please Forget About The Student Fees Thing Referendum – has swung into the realm of real-life possibility.
“If the UK Parliament and the other 27 nations of Europe get a final say on the deal, why shouldn’t we?” asked Kezia Dugdale, former Labour leader in Scotland, in the Daily Record. “No one voted to be poorer but that’s what we’re all going to be. Brexit is spiralling out of control and out of the interests of working people. That’s why we the people should take back control with a final vote on the deal.”
Of course, such talk marks Khan and Dugdale out as democracy-hating traitors who would rightly be hung, drawn and quartered on the spot once we’re officially renamed Farageland. But does it, really? The Brexiteers will bawl that the will of the people has been decided, but the will of the people isn’t a concrete, immovable Father Jack of a thing. Democracy doesn’t stop dead with one definitive decision, otherwise Prime Minister and X Factor winner would be jobs for life. The will of the people in determining who’s in government is permitted to change every four years, and that only decides who’s going to fuck us over for 48 months or so, not whether or not we’re going to be fucked over forever. Why is it so unreasonable to consider taking the pulse of popular opinion on Brexit again, four or five years on?
After all, the will of the people, throughout history, has been swayed by experience and information. And the 2016 referendum was unique in being arguably the most inexperienced and ill-informed vote the UK has ever held. Nobody, on either side, had ever left the EU before and nobody really knew the consequences of what they were voting for, all of which were impossible to predict. The concept, detail and even the question itself were kept so vague that you could have been voting on anything. Throw in a Leave campaign made up of bare-faced nationalistic bullshiters on a giant lying Bastard Bus, fwaffing on about how easy the whole process would be, how we wouldn’t have to leave any markets or unions and how everyone in Turkey was already in the back of a meat-packing van heading for Dover, and essentially we had the referendum equivalent of Would I Lie To You? but with the future economic stability of 65 million people at stake rather than just a withering put-down from David Mitchell.
We were lied to, manipulated, kept purposefully in the dark; hey, we still are. Now, how adult, reasonable and in Britain’s interests would it have been if the Tories had the balls to take the result of this advisory referendum, look into the consequences of leaving the EU, maybe even enter discussions, but ultimately, with the good of the country at heart, throw up their hands and admit “yup, we’ve looked into this, it’s going to be a total shitshow”.
Instead, as May, Boris and Davis steamroller towards oblivion, we’re seeing the actual, tangible effects of Brexit becoming brutally clear. The pound’s down the dumper, jobs and industries are relocating or staying away, there’s a cataclysmic 96 per cent drop in applications for nurses to enter the NHS, we’re in talks to have our less-regulated food imported ‘fresh’ from the US and China, an iPhone costs a grand. Understandably the tide is turning on Brexit – a recent poll had Remain winning a second referendum today by 52 percent. A decisive landslide, the Leavers must surely agree.
A year on, we’re all EU experts now. The Leave lies have disintegrated, the stark realities of Brexit are dawning, Project Fear is proving itself Project Pretty Accurate Actually.
So should we be abiding strictly by the decision of the less enlightened, mis-informed, blind-leading-the-blind vote of 2016? Corbyn’s Brexit tack has been purposefully flexible, malleable to the changing swing of Brexit opinion and dedicated to honouring the public’s decision. But as the UK slips further down the crapper and the polls show ever more Regrexit, it may well be right, and popular, to go to the country again for our say on a final deal – the only point at which we’ll know what Brexit actually means.