Reconsidering Brexit

A poll published in the Observer over the weekend suggests that many of those who voted to leave the European Union (EU) in 2016 may be having second thoughts. Analysis across the 632 constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland shows that in 112 constituencies, a majority of voters have shifted to being pro-Remain. In all, there are now 341 seats with majority Remain support, up from 229 seats at the 2016 referendum. In other words, a majority of voters (53 per cent) now want to remain in the EU, with just 47 per cent backing Leave. This marks a major shift from the slender 51.9 per cent of those who backed Brexit in the 2016 poll. Much of the shift has perhaps come from Labour voters who had voted for exit. But significantly, the pro-Remain constituencies also include those of the Conservative Party’s two staunchest Leavers: Michael Gove, secretary of environment, food and rural affairs, and Boris Johnson, till recently foreign secretary. The latter was among several ministers who resigned in protest after the Cabinet approved the Chequers Agreement, a basic framework for negotiating the exit deal with the EU, last month.

It is easy to see why the tide is turning. The weakening pound sterling is taking its toll and Britain is staring at sharply rising prices of food and medicine, even as companies struggle to fill in new vacancies as the number of EU citizens coming to the UK for employment hits its lowest level since 2013, according to a survey of 2,000 employers released on Monday. The Chequers Agreement also unwittingly signalled the problems for Britain. Key among these are proposals that the EU is flat-out unlikely to accept, such as collecting taxes on behalf of the EU in Britain, splitting tariffs for goods and services, the “non-negotiable” ban on free movement and exceptional demands on “passporting rights” for financial services that will impact the City, the engine of London’s economy, in unpredictable ways. Polls in late July show that faith in Prime Minister Theresa May had plunged to a record low, with 72 per cent of respondents saying they were not confident that she would negotiate a good deal.

Caught between stark evidence of what Brexit would mean in real terms, reports of irregularities in the official VoteLeave campaign that Mr Johnson and Mr Gove steered, and the political turmoil in Ms May’s government between hard and soft Brexiteers, many Leavers may have finally grasped that they were being sold a pup. The widespread suspicion that Britain will end up with no deal come March 29, 2019, the deadline for Britain to leave the EU, looks real, since Ms May needs to have the deal approved by Parliament before then. Having rashly sacrificed her party’s majority in snap polls last year, this alone could be a challenge, more so because she faces rebellion within her own party. Whether Ms May continues in office or not, the drumbeat for a second referendum is growing louder by the week. If it is held, the rules should be altered to require a super-majority and an ombudsman appointed to vet campaigns on either side. Brexit is too significant a development to be left to simple majorities and misleading promises.

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