Nigel Farage has tip-toed away from a current issue that is now wafting: a second EU referendum being in the cards. A resuscitated debate around the people having a say on how they are governed in a national or international context is creeping back into the light that it had been mostly banished from after this last year and a half. The question itself began as a mantra of the left: “the people must have a say over what kind of Brexit that they will be having!” There was supposed uncertainty over whether we would stay in the single market and whether a forthcoming economic downturn after EU tariffs are slapped onto our exports, as it was claimed, causes people to change their minds on the vote. While it has been no surprise that the most two-faced and misanthropic of politicians have been the self-appointed champions of the cause of a second vote based on blatant and barefaced opportunism, their cause itself is not completely arbitrary: just very ill-willed. The issue is not deceased and will likely fall into a deep coma, as it did between 1975 and 2016. As generations and conditions vary, like they have in those 41 years, it is likely that there will be a third (or “second”, as it’s being called) referendum at some stage in the very cloudy future. Is that necessarily bad? Not if we value an open-minded and long term democracy.
I, as a supporter of UKIP, especially throughout their national shockwave of electoral momentum, voted as you would expect of me: to leave, and to slam the door on our way out. I thought that it was perhaps the most important issue that we could have ever decided, and probably would ever have for a very long time, historically: “perfect!”, I thought, “we can get back control of our continental borders after many years of immigration issues, we can strengthen the legitimacy of our parliamentary democracy, and we can become a more prosperous nation that trades more freely and more widely with the rest of the world outside of the EU prison of protectionism!”. Do I still have that passion for that programme of national goals? Absolutely. But I disagree with the view that the EU question has been finalised after 2016. And it isn’t just because the vote itself was a marginal result. The fact that many people have not observed from both sides is that we had a generational vote in 1975, and we’ve just had one more. Why should it stop after 2016?
I admit: I really don’t think the EU will exist permanently as this bureaucratic mutation, and I predict that the project itself will rupture via its own contradictions like the Soviet Union…unless the whole culture within the institution revolutionises, I suppose. However, I cannot predict when this collapse will take place, and from that, if not within less than a semi-lifetime, I believe that it is likely that there will be fresh outcry for a new vote in the same kind of pacing as the last. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps much sooner, even. That’s assuming the EU does not become an Evil Empire from “a dangerous fantasy”. If we’ve started a tradition of voting on whether we are within the EU at this stage, it’s not unreasonable that we continue it. After all, that is democracy in action, and it follows the steps of our tradition of parliamentary elections. It would simply be downright unfair and undemocratic to start hammering the nails into the coffin of this issue: we called for a referendum on the grounds of democracy, and we (as brexiteers) cannot forget about democracy simply because we happen to now have what we want. That would be playing the EU’s game like it was played in Ireland, c. 2008-2009.
However, one fact still stands firmly: such a gap between our referenda cannot be young. To whip up a fresh referendum before the last has had any time to cool would actually undermine democracy in one important sense. This is because the pacing here is not about giving generations a genuine and bona fide voice as they emerge but, rather, to let the same generation correct themselves, so to speak, if those instigating the referendum did not like the last result they received. In this way, our leaders must be fair: they must allow a precedential time frame to pass for any kind of vote to be appropriate, or else it will appear as if they are simply trying to recycle the democratic process until it regurgitates the result they desire.
This is much the same for the Scottish independence question, also. In that sense, the Nick Cleggs and the Tony Blairs of our current politics have got this issue wrong in this particular way because they clearly aren’t in favour of democracy for democracy’s sake, as they’ve proven on this issue multiple times by ignoring the calls for the referendum in the first place. They must learn from the example of the eurosceptics of the 70s: to admit that a generation has voted, and to honourably leave the issue very much alone for the time being. Eurocentric goblins under this bridge should hide their shameful faces, because their irritating stream of pesters for another referendum will never make it happen. In fact, it will probably make it all the more unlikely. If it ever happens, it needs to come around naturally, not with an agenda beaming brightly through the rhetoric. It won’t be about the form of Brexit, because even like one passionate remain voter once said: “Brexit means Brexit”. It will be about “Brentrance”, if anything at all, and Brentrance will mean Brentrance, of course.
The fact that I feel that there will “likely” be another referendum in the future is because I feel that our country’s forthcoming generation has already rooted itself in the kind of politics that the younger Remain vote largely nestled itself within: a metropolitan, cosmopolitan, and even multicultural political spirit. And I have deep regrets about this. I more deeply hope that this trend will rapidly reverse and people find the value in British pride and national democracy, especially when Britain prospers from the outside. I at least have great optimism that we can get the Brexit that our country deserves, however long it lasts: a Brexit that protects Britain’s interests in global trade, territorial integrity and democracy. As democracy was the gust of wind that allowed the door on the referendum to swing open in the first place, and as it was the reason for Brexit furthermore, the principle of democracy should be what keeps the door ajar for a third referendum several decades down the line.
While this may sound like I am shutting the door on the issue for this generation, I am at the very least preferring that the door remains unlocked in quite another one, able to be opened again by our children, or perhaps their children, if they so regrettably desire. Democracy does involve the ability to change one’s mind, but democracy does not involve simply voting until politicians are given a good enough result. Hopefully our children will also understand that, especially if their politicians are largely similar to our own.