Reconsidering a second referendum

second referendum campaign

A few weeks ago I was rather dismissive of a second referendum on Brexit, a so-called “people’s vote”. I argued that the question had largely been answered, that “this is politics, not a baseball series”. It seemed to me that our focus should be on solving the profound issues highlighted by the bitter Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, not re-fighting old battles.

I would be lying if I did not admit that Theresa May’s fairly hopeless deal and the subsequent political chaos had caused me to waver.

Then there were the recent economic forecasts. They highlighted what many of us Remainers felt two-and-a-half years ago – that Brexit will make us poorer. Many industries,  including the tech industry that I report on, are terrified about what Brexit means for them.

The best argument for a second referendum so far

Then I read a piece from Sam Bowman, the former Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute. He is tech savvy with a focus on freedom and prosperity. Like me, Sam was a Remainer. He too initially dismissed a second Brexit referendum.  Today, he wrote:

I have spent the last two years rolling my eyes at people’s calls for a second referendum on Brexit. I thought it was impossible, and diverted Remainers’ energies away from shaping the Brexit settlement, making a hard or no deal Brexit more likely.

I now think that I was wrong, and a second referendum is both possible and desirable.

The argument Sam put forward is compelling. He said that a second referendum could be the only option out of the current ‘this deal or no deal’ quagmire. His piece highlighted that the agreement puts us on a path away from free markets and freedom, a path of decline.

This isn’t a deal that’s going to lead the UK down a path of deregulation, tax cuts, or unilateral free trade — not that these were ever likely outcomes from Brexit anyway. It improves nothing

However, this is what really got me thinking:

Many people may have voted to Leave with a different outcome to this one in mind. Asking them to decide if they’re absolutely certain that they want to go ahead with this is not, to my mind, a huge crime, and I doubt many Leavers, had they been on the losing side, would have objected to a second referendum if they’d been able to get one.

This argument for a second referendum is the one I’ve always been most drawn too. We now can make a far more informed decision than we could in 2016. Sam articulated this better than I’ve seen elsewhere. 

Not totally convinced…yet

I am not totally sold on a second referendum yet. Asking people to try again still makes me uncomfortable. I remain concerned about the potential backlash, whatever the result of a subsequent vote. Perhaps it is simply that I am far more arrogant/vein or less intellectually self-confident than Sam is! 

However, for those of us of a liberal/free market disposition, this Brexit deal does nothing to achieve our political aims. Arguably, it does not really achieve anyone’s political aims. Therefore, now that we know what deal is on offer, it might be time to look again at the 2016 result and check Leavers still want to leave. Despite my previous objections, maybe doing this is not such a heinous crime after all?


My first book "Not Buying It", looking at post-truth in media and politics, is being published by Unbound

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