THE immediate aftermath of a so-called “crunch summit” on Brexit might seem a funny time to talk about a second EU referendum.
However, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the painfully slow progress.
I’m no international political diplomat, but I suspect that this is going to be the case for months to come, until the country finally staggers towards the official exit date of March 2019. I might not be a diplomat, but I am a realist. We’re committed to Brexit, therefore there are targets and milestones to meet.
However, this does not mean that all debate about the decision itself must be cancelled. In an interestingly disruptive move, as Prime Minister Theresa May met EU negotiators inb Brussels, the west’s leading economic think-tank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), called for the UK to hold a second referendum.
This Paris-based group, which has 35 of the world’s richest countries as members, has warned that the decision to leave is already causing serious economic troubles for the UK. In addition, Angel Gurría, its secretary general, has warned that Brexit itself would be as harmful to our economy as Blitz in the Second World War.
Some pro-Brexit politicians have criticised the intervention of the OECD at this delicate stage of negotiations. They are entitled to their opinions of course, but it seems reactionary to close down any further debate on the matter when we still have 18 months to go. Surely a decision which affects the standing of the UK not just in Europe, but in the world, deserves to be explored from every single angle.
And the point to bear in mind is that this discussion and exploration may well reveal information and conditions which change the opinions of a significant proportion of those who voted for Brexit in the first place. Is it acceptable, when all the cards are laid out on the table in the coming months, that the British people are taken into a decision which they no longer support or find palatable?
It’s a seriously major decision at that. Only now are we beginning to feel the first tremors of what life apart from the EU might be like.
Before the Brexit vote, the UK economy was booming, outgrowing Germany, Japan and the United States. In the space of a year, according to official data produced by the G7 group of advanced economies, we have plummeted straight to the bottom, to languish alongside Italy.
Brexiteers would argue that this is a blip, until we get our house in order and surge forward once again under our own steam. This is a good point, but it’s hard to imagine a reverse in the UK’s economic fortunes happening with inflation on the increase, consumer spending dropping due to stagnant wages and rumours of an interest rate rise in the near future.
I know that just over half the country voted to leave, but do you think that even the most ardent anti-Europe supporters intended to advocate an economy which would end up in freefall?
And this is before we have even signed on the dotted line.
Obviously, the economy is the vital cog upon which the country turns. If it becomes broken, we stall and fail. However, it’s important also to look at the widest political and social landscape. We now have Theresa May as Prime Minister. Her own personal position on leaving/remaining is technically immaterial. Her role is to lead the business of what we do next.
More interestingly, since Brexit came to pass, we have witnessed a transformation in the appeal of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He missed his chance to pin his colours clearly to the mast during the referendum campaign, but he now has no hesitation in supporting the Remain camp.
No doubt this is a mixture of personal belief and political capital, but this is not a bad thing. He clearly believes that the UK is better off remaining as part of Europe and is now beginning to outline ways in which this might happen.
In short, we are dealing with a very different domestic political landscape to that of June 2016. With the Opposition leader firmly in favour of Remain, and a resurgent party behind him, would people vote differently in another referendum?
There is good evidence to support the argument that the millions of ordinary voters who flocked to the ‘Leave’ vote did so in order to express their dissatisfaction with the way the UK was being run by a political elite, and that it had little to do with that place called ‘Europe’.
Would they vote the same way if they thought that the prospect of a Labour government was
now more than a fantasy? All these questions. We can’t stop asking them, just because Mrs May makes “important” speeches.
It is said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can’t go back, but we can go forward. Let’s not dismiss the idea of revisiting the decision when we know more about exactly what we are letting ourselves in for.
Read Jayne Dowle in The Yorkshire Post every Monday