Ms. May, Give Britons a Real Choice: Give them a Second Referendum on the EU

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. CC UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Wikipedia

Now, I know what you're thinking: The British just HAD a referendum and they voted to leave. You cannot be a true democrat while refusing to accept the result of plebicites and working against the expressed will of the electorate by simply holding referendums again until you get the result you want. That's not direct democracy, it's bullying.

That's true, but I'm not arguing for a referendum any time in 2016 and perhaps not even in 2017. There is a very good argument for one thereafter, however. Britons voted to leave the EU before anyone knew what life outside the EU would look like for Britain and Europe. Would Britain get something akin to the "Norwegian Option", with access to the common market, but no control over that market, EU immigration, or the budget, to which it would have to contribute? Could it get something better (a near impossibility)? No one knew at the time of the referendum and no one knows now, either, which is why a re-run of the referendum now would make no sense.

When the British people know exactly what they are voting for, that's a fair vote. If Britons look at the deal on offer and say "yep, most of us prefer that to being in the EU", then fair enough. That would be a decision based on clear alternatives and some sort of real debate, not the emotional plunge into the unknown that the first referendium has triggered. Brexiteers will have time to negotiate the best deal they can (including with non-EU countries) and argue their case. If they're being genuine, they should welcome that opportunity to put Brexit on a sound footing of solid voter support.

But what about the EU? Could/would it force the UK out if it decided it didn't want to leave with the deal on offer after all? The answer isn't clear, but the EU specializes in fudging and mainstream politicians across the continent want to preserve European unity. My guess is they would grumble but allow Britain to bail out of its Brexit at the last minute if that meant it became a strong case for why remaining in the EU was the better option. After all, if EU leaders wish to discourage other countries from leaving, surely there could be no better example than a country full-on testing it out and deciding it was a bad idea. Brexit is not yet a done deal. There is still time to save the marriage, even though the lawyers have already arrived on scene.


  1. Sir, good post but I think the Brits do know what life outside the EU is like. The EU is relatively new, having only been established in 1993 so many in the UK remember what life was like before the EU and perhaps they like that life better. Britain is a strong country and will do fine without the EU and without having to water down their culture.

    I was in Europe in 1989, prior to the EU and I don't recall it being a massive burden to travel between countries so that argument made by others should be tossed aside. On the other hand, perhaps if the EU had not formed, the terrorists that moved so freely between Paris and Brussels might not have been able to do so as easily.

    As far as can have borders and checkpoints between countries and still have trade agreements. You don't need the European Union for that.

    I've also read articles in the news about Britain and NATO and possible issues there after BREXIT. I don't understand why. NATO was around well before the EU formed and worked fine.

    Finally, many people carried on about how BREXIT would destabilize the markets but I believe the S & P 500 had one of it's best days in three months, this past Friday.

    Respectfully submitted by,

    Christian Woodhead

  2. Hi Christian,

    The UK joined the European Community, the precursor to the EU, long before 1993 (in the 1970s). Not having border checkpoints between countries is not relevant in the UK's case because it never joined Schengen (it's always retained its border checkpoints), but it's interesting that you argue based solely on your own experience from 28 years ago that any such argument should simply be tossed aside. As far as trade, the EU is not primarily about open borders (again, that never applied to the UK), it is a free trade area and customs union (which is why Margaret Thatcher was originally keen on it). The type of trade agreement the UK would get with the EU is unknown, which is primarily what I was referring to when I said that no one knows what life outside the EU will be like. If the UK wants unfettered access to the EU's single market, it will have to accept EU ruled that it has no part anymore in shaping. The case of Norway is instructive: It is in the European Economic Area (EEA), and Schengen, which allow it to trade freely with other EU countries and Norwegians can live and work freely in the EU and vice versa. BUT: Norway has to pay into the EU budget just like an EU country and must accept EU regulations—and since it's not part of the EU, it has no say in these rules.

    Another problem is that current agreements do not cover services, which is the UK's biggest export area. London is the world's top financial center by many measures. With the UK outside the EU, the EU is unlikely to allow euro handling to be managed primarily outside the euro zone. The UK might be subject to tariffs (like all countries outside the EU) on financial and legal services. Many companies are already considering setting up additional offices in other EU countries outside London. It's unlikely there will be a flight out of London, but the idea that a company can set up its European base in London will be out the window unless the UK gets a very good deal—a deal that would require it to accept all current EU rules, pay into the budget, and accept considerable freedom of movement.

    My point is: The referendum offered only a vote on a direction without a clear endpoint. Only once there is a solid deal on offer will anyone be able to say what the real choice will be. Faced with severely curtailed trading conditions or very good ones that are almost no different from remaining in the EU, but also allow the immigration many Brits disliked and give the UK no control over EU rules, many might decide Brexit is not such a good idea, after all. If you want to catch up on all the nitty gritty of various trade deals, the security cooperation promoted by the EU, etc., the Economist had loads of articles in the run-up to the vote. In short: the gains alleged by Brexiteers were not based on any reality and were more or less delusions. There are already some voters who have expressed regret. I think once it becomes clear what the trade deal looks like and what Britain would have to do to get it, more will change their minds.

  3. And I didn't even mention the millions of Brits who live in the EU, including retirement in Spain, for example, and now have uncertain futures. Another point: Scotland leaving the UK. Another: Much of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland relied on being in the EU. If the UK really wanted to control its borders after leaving the EU, it would need to put up a border between itself and the Republic of Ireland. This would severely endanger the Good Friday agreement, whereby many UK citizens are also Irish citizens. As long as it seemed like Ireland was essentially unified, even sharing government, people could ignore the fact that a part of it was controlled by the UK. There are endless reasons. I could spend hours. Instead, if you're really interested, I really recommend all the stuff in the Economist. It had an entire briefing on it one week, as well as loads of separate articles. It did not join in the doomsday Brexit scaremongering, but laid out the very strong rational case in a relentless series (though it was always strongly in favor of remain).


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