WHETHER any kind of second Brexit referendum comes to pass, one thing is certain. When the political landscape is as muddied and bloodied as this, trust in politicians and the established political process has gone.
In the three tumultuous years since 2016, we have witnessed a complete overturning of established allegiances and watched as the UK has polarised itself into the simple matrix of Leave or Remain.
All those centuries of political awakening, massive social upheaval, the formation of political parties as we recognise them today, the trades union movement, universal suffrage and government after government, general election after general election, has been crystallised into one simple matrix: Leave or Remain.
The next few days will be crucial. In theory, I support a confirmatory plebiscite. It’s now a given that the presiding Leave vote was more a verdict on Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative government than it was an expression of long-term national future-proofing by an informed and engaged electorate.
This is a massive generalisation, I grant you, but devoid of political leaders they could trust, people simply voted with their instincts. Skilful politicians at the helm could have persuaded them to consider more carefully the bigger picture.
I have long argued that the narrow Leave margin was partly a result of a poorly orchestrated Remain campaign never wholeheartedly backed by a fearful Jeremy Corbyn. Only in the last few months has he been reluctantly coerced into grudgingly backing Remain and now it’s too late.
A wiser Opposition leader would have stepped up to the plate way and asked his MPs, especially in working-class communities like mine – Barnsley East, where almost 71 per cent voted Leave – to encourage voters to appreciate that European funding had contributed billions to regeneration. But he didn’t.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back now and see that much of what we were told about the cost and implications of belonging to the European Union was simply not true.
Also, we have learned of terrible things. Things which we never imagined happening in our cherished democracy.
European citizens, decent, law-abiding individuals who have lived and worked in the UK for decades, being forced to line up and prove their right to remain here.
Treated like criminals and made to undergo humiliating tests. To echo a proud boast so often trotted out, is this why our grandparents and great-grandparents lost their lives fighting fascist regimes?
Meanwhile, in Westminster, the rabid ultra-right wing of the Conservative Party, led by arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, has threatened to reverse important freedoms. Not just in the widest political sense over Europe, but impinging on hard-fought personal rights. He’s fiercely anti-abortion, for example, even in the case of incest or rape.
And still, if we had a second referendum tomorrow, we could not rely on the opposite of 2016 to happen – that the electorate would deliver a verdict that resulted in Remain, in order to send a bloody nose to the politicians who have put us through three years of national turmoil and personal torment.
Remainers may like to think they have the moral high ground but they should take nothing for granted. A second referendum of any kind would be a huge gamble.
A major poll undertaken by Channel 5 last week of 26,000 people showed that 50 per cent still wish to respect the result of the Leave vote and 42 per cent want the country to stay in the EU. Eight per cent were undecided.
Clearly, there are many, many people who still believe the only hope for the UK is independence from Europe. However blinkered you might consider this view to be, it has come about for a series of reasons.
Too many people still feel isolated from the political process in Westminster and too many serving MPs have literally left their constituencies to fend for themselves, shrugging off pleas to intervene in cases of acute poverty, crime, poor social care or anti-social behaviour.
A widespread lack of faith has led to a terrible disconnect in the democratic process, creating a series of moral vacuums in which people blame the nearest thing – in our case, Europe.
Let’s vote for a change, people said in 2016, without considering what the change might entail. Healing all this division and disappointment, rather than driving the wedge yet deeper, should now be the priority.