Andrew Vine: A second referendum is the only way out of this Brexit mess

IT IS 100 days to Brexit tomorrow, and we're really no clearer about how it is going to turn out than on the morning after the referendum.

The jubilation of the winning side now seems like a distant fantasy from another age, and the statement by the soon-to-be International Trade Secretary Liam Fox that we were about to witness the easiest deal in history must go down as one of the biggest political misjudgements of all time.

Easy? One Prime Minister gone from office – and a second counting the days until she does likewise after being damned by a lukewarm vote of confidence from her own party – a deadlocked Parliament and a country that has no idea how this is all going to end, amid warnings of dire economic consequences.

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What a mess.

Can the Parliamentary deadlock over Brexit be reconciled?

Democracies all over the world must be looking at Britain in bewilderment and wondering how the country that showed everybody else how civilised and intelligent Parliamentarians addressed complex problems has tied itself into such a knot.

Politics has become paralysed by opposing forces pushing against each other so hard that none can move an inch.

There are those who back Theresa May’s deal, albeit reluctantly, those who hold out for something better, without spelling out what it should be, those who want the nuclear option of no deal and hang the consequences, and those who favour a second referendum.

Add to that the mania and guerrilla warfare of the Tory right, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, with its determination that Mrs May should be got rid of at all costs, and Britain can only watch in despair.

Theresa May has dismissed growing calls for a second referendum on Brexit.

There is only one way out of this impasse, and that is to hold a second referendum. If Parliament cannot make a decision, the electorate must.

How divisive it would be was shown by Mrs May’s sharp rebuke at the weekend to Tony Blair over lobbying for a second vote, amid machinations within her own Cabinet around the idea. But it increasingly looks like the only option.

If the Commons has demonstrated anything during these past days and weeks, it is its inability to reach consensus. It has no answers, and Mrs May cannot provide effective leadership, especially since her already weak position was undermined still further.

It’s difficult to decide which of the competing spectacles of the past few days has been the more painful to watch – Mrs May losing her cool and having a stand-up row after trying and failing to win a new deal from the EU, or the venom directed towards her by Conservative MPs.

The people must now be given the chance to decide what happens – whether to back Mrs May’s deal, opt for no deal, or remain in the EU. By doing so, they would give a clear instruction to Parliament about how to proceed that no amount of Tory backstabbing could change.

This would be a better-informed vote than the referendum two-and-a-half years ago. Then, falsehoods were presented as facts, notoriously the claim that leaving the EU would provide a massive injection of funds for the NHS.

People know better now. They also know the realities of what disentangling 40 years of legal obligations involve, and the difficulty of striking the right balance between controlling immigration and allowing sufficient people in to enable Britain’s public and private sectors to function.

Voters have come to realise that border controls and the trade that keeps our supermarket shelves stocked with food and pharmacies supplied with the prescription drugs that people need are complex matters.

In simple terms, Britain has woken up to the fact that the country cannot slam the door on Europe and carry on as normal. There are consequences, and the slippery claims of the first referendum campaign won’t wash a second time round.

A people’s vote may very well return the same decision as in 2016, and the electorate confirms it wishes to leave the EU. If so, it can decide on what terms.

If the public opts for no deal, then it does so with a clear idea of the difficulties which would most likely lie ahead and be prepared to put up with them.

Britain’s instinct towards compromise could sway voters towards Mrs May’s deal, however flawed it is.

Or the country might simply change its mind, and decide the status quo is the best option. And if it did so, there would be no shame in that.

Britain is as entitled to change its mind about an issue that will affect the lives of generations yet to be born, just as it is in deciding to kick out a government it has lost faith in at a general election.

Our MPs have demonstrated that they cannot find a way out of the mess that competing factions have created.

The people must decide now what they want for our country. It is the only democratic way.