“So maybe – just maybe – I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership.”
Those were the words of Mr Brexit himself, Nigel Farage on TV this morning. Within seconds our Twitter timelines were awash with Pro-Europeans queuing up to agree with him.
So, why, as politicians who have previously expressed sympathy for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, did we feel so uneasy?
Events over the last six months have made us increasingly unsure about the practicalities, if not the principle, of a ratification referendum.
The Prime Minister’s so-called “implementation/transition phase”, which as we all know is really the “begging-for-extra-time-to-sort-out-this-mess phase” makes the terms of another referendum, which were always going to be hard, even trickier.
What level of detail will we have about Brexit beyond transition upon which to make a judgement? What question would we ask? Even Brexit oracle Nigel seemed to suggest “multiple options” at one point in his interview today.
So what’s he up to?
The simple answer is, it’s all about him. The Question Time spot once reserved for him is no longer and he wants the attention. Today, he also wanted to deflect news coverage away from Sadiq Khan’s report on how bad a hard Brexit will be for the country. Mr Farage is doing Mrs May’s work for her – redirecting attention from a critique of the political choices she has made in pursuing a hard Brexit by mooting the idea of throwing all the chips back up into the air again.
He’s also realised that the longer this goes on, and the more that people see the complexity associated with Brexit and the more they worry about the chaos and uncertainty it brings, the more likely they are to re-evaluate the situation. He wants a second referendum quickly before the reality properly starts to bite.
The only way Nigel Farage wins a referendum is if it’s conducted in a similar way to last time – a vague proposition with little detail of what “leave” actually means. A vacuum, to be filled with his lies and misinformation
He hates the idea of a fudge transition period – legally out of the EU but to all intents and purposes in the single market and customs union – because that’s when the public will really start to question the sense of it all. In our view that is when Remain Campaigners are most likely to win the argument either via a referendum (perhaps about going back in) or a General Election in which a political party unequivocally commits us to a pro-European future.
The only way Nigel Farage wins a referendum is if it’s conducted in a similar way to last time – a vague proposition with little detail of what “leave” actually means. A vacuum, to be filled with his lies and misinformation.
The truth is, this is all going to take years to sort out. Nigel Farage wants to put a final nail in the coffin now so that he can claim a majority for the most extreme form of Brexit imaginable.
It’s all a big game for him. He is a stock broker. A high stakes gambler. Well, we’ve got news for Nigel Farage – this is not a game. He will always be OK. He will always be able to jet off to stand in a golden lift at Trump Towers. Our constituents who rely upon jobs working as cleaners, communications assistants, car plant workers, event planners, caterers, IT professionals or security guards don’t have that luxury. They won’t be OK if he and his handmaiden the Prime Minister crucify the economy by taking us out of the Single Market and a European Customs Union.
The only favour Nigel Farage has done us today is by reaffirming the fact that none of this is inevitable.
If the number one pin up boy of the Brexiteers says it might never happen, it simply serves to underline the volatility and fragility of today’s politics.
That’s where the hope lies in all of this – not because the Brexit oracle has opined but because this is all so difficult and the public aren’t stupid. Over time they will see it and he knows it.
Heidi Alexander is the Labour MP for Lewisham East
Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South
For more information on the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, visit labour4singlemarket.org