Why a Second Brexit Referendum Is a Terrible Idea

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Photo by Oscar Webb

The referendum result has really brought out the worst in people. I’m not talking about the bigots who have seen the Leave vote as a fillip for abusing pedestrians on the street (we’ll get to them), or the triumphant Leave campaigners celebrating despite their complete lack of a plan. Unfortunately, some of the nice people who voted to Remain for urbane reasons are showing themselves to be just as stupid as they believe the Leave voters to be.

Particularly dumb is this call for a second referendum, hooked off a petition that’s picked up nearly 4 million signatures (77,000 of which supposedly came from 4Chan users). You think regretful Brexiteers got more than they bargained for, voting Leave and then realizing immediately that they shouldn’t have? If you get a second referendum, you’ll know how they feel.

Take, for example, the racists—those who’ve been cornering Muslim girls and shouting, “Get out, we voted leave!” or posting cards saying “Leave the EU / No more Polish vermin” outside a school in Cambridge. Racists were there already, of course, but the Leave victory has buoyed them. So would pressing “re-boot” un-buoy them, perhaps? Unfortunately: nope.

Staging another referendum and snatching away a democratic victory from the Leave camp would just show a bunch of reactionaries that they can’t get what they want from the ballot box. As James Butler put it, “It would give the hard right a foundation myth of staggering power: the democratic will of the people overridden by a decadent cosmopolitan elite, who need purging from public life.”

Then there are the people who voted Leave as a fuck you to a political order that doesn’t care for them. Whether or not that “fuck you” was misplaced—and regardless of whether these people were a little too chill about making their point via a racist campaign and then voting their own country into turmoil—how would reversing the decision help? A bunch of pissed off Londoners making sure they got their way at the expense of everyone else would go down really well, I’m sure.

It’s in this realm that some of the arguments get a bit worrying, with many of your Facebook friends—and perhaps even you—being weirdly blithe about their apparent democratic ideals. I know, mate; if only the idiots had read that scorching hot-take that made such an impression on you—if only rural Wales and Romford and the West Midlands had seen sense, i.e. your exact point of view, and voted to Remain.

Really, though, to think that a second referendum would solve anything is just complacent—as if, had we woken up to a Remain victory on Thursday, that everything would have been cool. Let’s get real about what the referendum was. Yes, on one level it was a vote about whether or not Britain should be part of an economic and political union based in Brussels with some pros and cons. But it was also a badly played political chess move that saw David Cameron making pawns of us all, in the context of a campaign marked by xenophobia and petty nationalism on both sides.

If a re-run of the vote could turn all of that around, saving us from scouring our family trees for any justification for an Irish passport, I would take it. Unfortunately, I can’t have what I want just like that, and neither can you.

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