As I have noted several times already this month, the issue for both sides in the UK’s Brexit debate is that neither is truly willing to respect the other and deliver an outcome tolerable to the maximum number of people. Leavers continue to insist that leaving means leaving the lot – no Customs Union, no Single Market, pretty much no immigration. Remainers continue to behave as if we will all just wake up one morning and agree to make the whole issue go away – ignoring the profound fact that a majority of the British public would prefer to leave the EU (or, at least, aren’t bothered either way). Given the closeness of the vote and the fundamental political, social, economic and even global implications, it should be obvious to everyone that a Third Way has to be found – one which respects the outcome of the vote and the British public’s basic view of the EU, while not carelessly and needlessly inflicting massive economic and social damage.
This, fundamentally, is the case for a second referendum. I am somewhat uneasy with it – the world is not made up of binary choices and I am instinctively against referendums on that basis. Nevertheless, if Leavers are so confident that they can strike a deal to leave the EU which, upon fair examination, is acceptable to the British public, then they should have no problem consulting them on it at the polls. Likewise Remainers have to accept that any remote prospect of remaining in the EU, or probably even close to it, will require the same.
On 23 June 2016 the British public rejected David Cameron’s terms for remaining in the EU. Conversely, however, on 8 June 2017 they also refused to give Theresa May a blank canvas to leave the EU in any way she saw fit. It is quite clear, therefore, that the specific proposal to leave should be returned to the people (bearing in mind that a declaration to this effect would probably strengthen Britain’s negotiating hand by emphasising the democratic mandate required).
That is the uneasy but probably unarguable case for a second referendum. The new Liberal Democrat Leader has a clear task ahead…