Brexit ref­er­en­dums: best two out of three?

The Observer (Sarnia) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don, Eng­land. GWYNNE DYER

The five-day de­bate in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the Euro­pean Union did not start well for her. Ev­ery­body knows she hasn’t got the votes to pass the deal, but it turned out she hasn’t got the votes for lots of other things ei­ther.

It’s a rot­ten deal be­cause it was bound to be. The EU is 27 other coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion seven times that of the United King­dom, and it needed to demon­strate that Bri­tain would be worse off by leav­ing. Other­wise other mem­bers might also de­cide they could cherry-pick the bits of the EU they liked and skip the rest.

So the EU coun­tries stuck to­gether, and May’s gov­ern­ment was forced to choose be­tween a “no-deal” Brexit that would cause chaos in the U.K. and the lousy deal the EU of­fered her in­stead. In a mo­ment of san­ity, she chose the lat­ter.

The deal leaves Bri­tain still part of the com­mon mar­ket that the Brex­iters wanted to quit and still pay­ing into the EU bud­get, but no longer with any voice in the EU’s de­ci­sions. More­over, Bri­tain can exit that half­way house only with the con­sent of the EU.

That con­sent will be forth­com­ing only if May can some­how find a way to keep the border be­tween North­ern Ire­land (a part of the U.K.) and the Repub­lic of Ire­land (which re­mains an EU mem­ber) “in­vis­i­ble.” Un­til then, Bri­tain must stay in the cus­toms union.

May’s deal was there­fore never go­ing to make it through Par­lia­ment. Those who don’t want Brexit will vote against it, but so will the real Brex­iters, who see it as a be­trayal of their fan­tasy.

And if party dis­ci­pline is go­ing to col­lapse any­way, then you might as well vote for what you ac­tu­ally want.

May lost three votes in Par­lia­ment on Mon­day, but the most im­por­tant one took away her free­dom to de­cide what to do next when her deal is voted down. Now, Par­lia­ment will de­cide what to do next — and it could choose a num­ber of cour­ses, in­clud­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on Brexit.

The sec­ond ref­er­en­dum has be­come the uni­corn of Bri­tish pol­i­tics, a fa­bled beast that never shows up in real life, but there are uni­corn drop­pings all over the houses of Par­lia­ment this week.

A ma­jor­ity of MPs al­ways sup­ported Re­main, even if many hid their views to sur­vive po­lit­i­cally, but they have be­come an ex­traor­di­nar­ily volatile group.

There are half a dozen pos­si­ble out­comes to the par­lia­men­tary ma­noeu­vring of this week, end­ing with the de­ci­sive vote on May’s deal on Tues­day, but sev­eral of them would prob­a­bly lead to a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum that might re­verse the Brexit vote of June 2016.

It would be a re­mark­able re­sult: three years of huff­ing and puff­ing about “sovereignty,” fol­lowed by a meek re­sump­tion of Bri­tain’s (quite ad­van­ta­geous) po­si­tion in the EU.

Of course, the an­gry Leavers would cry “Foul!” and de­mand yet an­other ref­er­en­dum — best of three — or they could just take to the streets.

There are fre­quent veiled threats in the right-wing press that any thwart­ing of the Brexit dream by a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum could re­sult in blood in the streets. That may be so, al­though it’s more likely to be an­other of those “Pro­ject Fear” (fear mon­ger­ing) cam­paigns that have dis­fig­ured the en­tire Brexit process.

In any case, if it should ever come to street-fight­ing, the Re­main­ers would win eas­ily. They are, on av­er­age, 13 years younger than the Brex­iters.

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