The bat­tle to stay in the Euro­pean Union was lost long be­fore 2016

The Herald on Sunday - - NEWS -

ONLY the most dog­matic op­po­nent of the Euro­pean Union could deny there is a co­her­ent ar­gu­ment for a vote on the fi­nal Brexit deal.

What­ever pro­posal Theresa May brings back to West­min­ster, it will not ap­pease soft Re­main­ers, or sat­isfy life­long Brex­iters who got into pol­i­tics to un­sta­ple the UK from Brus­sels.

Sin­gle mar­ket mem­ber­ship will not be on of­fer, nor will the Prime Min­is­ter be able to sat­isfy the Tory Right by guar­an­tee­ing the UK will be able to en­ter into new free trade agree­ments.

The be­hav­iour of Leave cam­paign­ers dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum also adds weight to the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign for an­other ref­er­en­dum. Not only did Vote Leave break the spend­ing rules, but the Na­tional Crime Agency is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Brexit “bad boy” Ar­ron Banks. The vic­tory looks tar­nished.

More im­por­tantly, pub­lic opin­ion ap­pears to be shift­ing. In a re­cent Sur­va­tion poll, Re­main led Leave by 54% to 46% and over 100 lo­cal author­ity ar­eas that voted for Brexit had changed sides. Against this back­drop, why not have an­other ref­er­en­dum and let the peo­ple de­cide?

How­ever, even af­ter a pos­i­tive few weeks for the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign, which has been em­bold­ened by a 700,000 strong march in Lon­don, the chances of an­other ref­er­en­dum range be­tween highly un­likely and re­mote.

It’s not just the prac­ti­cal difficulty of cob­bling to­gether a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity for an­other vote – an ob­sta­cle largely cre­ated by the eu­roscep­ti­cism of Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn.

It’s not just be­cause the most per­sua­sive ad­vo­cates of an­other ref­er­en­dum are politi­cians like Tony Blair and John Ma­jor whose best days are, to put it kindly, not in front of them. And it’s not sim­ply be­cause last week’s poll can eas­ily be down­played. Like all snap­shots, it mea­sured the width of opin­ions, not their depth. Over 50% of vot­ers may sup­port Re­main, but it does not fol­low that a ref­er­en­dum is a top pri­or­ity.

Like the Re­main cam­paign in 2016, the Peo­ple’s Vote is a top-down cam­paign led by po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers and the al­ready-con­verted. Just as sup­port­ers of in­de­pen­dence falsely be­lieve large ral­lies are a sign of mo­men­tum, so too was the Lon­don march mainly an event for folk whose minds were al­ready made up.

But the main hurdle for those who want a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum – the cold, hard fact that no amount of opin­ion polls can dis­guise – is the lack of an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the EU. What­ever one’s opin­ion on the United King­dom – and there is a “di­ver­sity” of views in Scot­land – the UK is de­fined by its shared in­sti­tu­tions. The NHS. The BBC. Our armed ser­vices. Even the SNP Govern­ment’s in­de­pen­dence White Pa­per put a heavy em­pha­sis on keeping the monar­chy. The UK is about more than Bar­nett con­se­quen­tials.

The same is true of the United States. De­spite it be­ing more di­vided than ever, most Repub­li­cans and Democrats re­vere their Con­sti­tu­tion and the Bill of Rights. They re­spect the in­sti­tu­tion of the pres­i­dency, and value their po­lit­i­cal sys­tem’s checks and bal­ances.

No such love ex­ists for the EU, which has been treated by the UK as a self-ser­vice buf­fet from which we can gorge on visa-free travel and cured Spanish meats. It is a purely trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship that is counted in pounds and pence.

The EU’s in­sti­tu­tions do not warm our hearts or lift out souls. Its Par­lia­ment, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, is seen as a cesspit of cor­rup­tion and spe­cial in­ter­ests. The Com­mis­sion, and the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters, seem dis­tant and se­cre­tive. Europe’s flag only gets no­ticed dur­ing the Ryder Cup.

It was this 40-year fail­ure to make an emo­tional case for Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion that made Brexit pos­si­ble. Up against the ugly waves of back­lash pol­i­tics and na­tion­al­ism, the sand­bags pro­tect­ing the UK’s mem­ber­ship were found to be weak and the EU was washed away. The ref­er­en­dum gave the Brex­iters the chance to tell vot­ers they were get­ting noth­ing from the buf­fet.

The cam­paign for a Peo­ple’s Vote will go on. More MPs will sign up, some vot­ers will change their minds and the me­dia will cover it ex­ten­sively. But there is a feel­ing the bat­tle for the UK to stay in the EU was lost long be­fore 2016.

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