In the early hours of 24 June two years ago, I felt something I have never felt before or since. A kind of giddy excitement at seeing history being made and knowing I had played a small part in it. Like millions of others, I had put my X next to Leave, I had asked the government for change and, thanks to the wonders of democracy, change would now have to happen.
I’ll be honest: I thought the change might happen a little quicker than this. It’s unlikely any voters – Leave or Remain – expected a simple and speedy exit from the EU, but we did expect it to happen. At least, I certainly did.
In the days after the referendum, as politicians stumbled about in shock and Leave voters rejoiced, I remember my French other half saying: “It won’t happen.” He wasn’t saying it out of spite, but merely because he remembered what happened in France the last time the French were offered a vote on the EU. In 2005, the French people were given a vote on the European constitution – and voted against it. A few years later, it was pushed through parliament anyway by new president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Despite this (and other instances where the EU and national governments have rejected referendum results on the EU – see Greece and Ireland), I truly believed Brexit would happen. When Theresa May stood outside Downing Street in 2016 and pledged to carry out the people’s will, it seemed genuine. Although during the referendum campaign she had backed Remain, she appeared to understand that the EU question had been answered by the British public and that her role was now to carry out that decision.
Well, today my faith is wearing very thin. Between fearmongering threats of food and medicine shortages – and even a “super-gonorrhoea” epidemic, according to the London Evening Standard – caused by Brexit or a no-deal situation, demands for a do-over referendum and a government that is proposing a Brexit in name only, perhaps the only logical recourse would be to retreat to a Brexit bunker until it’s all over.
Despite constantly being told we didn’t know what we voted for, most Brexit voters are clear that they voted to leave the EU entirely, not with one foot still in – which means leaving the single market and the customs union and no longer being subject to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. The Chequers deal proposed by May makes a mockery of these demands, and, in any case, has already been rejected in part by Michel Barnier.
May has shown herself to be a spineless leader and no match at all for the bullying tactics of Barnier and his Brussels bureaucrats. Brexit is being handled by a government plagued with infighting and frequent resignations. Moreover, any Brexit deal will face a parliament in which the majority hopes either for the softest Brexit possible or no Brexit at all.
Unsurprisingly, a Sky Data poll this week revealed that most people – whether they voted Leave or Remain – are unhappy with how the government is handling Brexit. But it is the Brexit voters who will lose out most here.
Were May to resign, there is no obvious replacement in the Conservative Party to carry out an effective Brexit policy. The Liberal Democrats want to overturn Brexit, and Labour’s Brexit policy seems to change with the wind. As such, I, and many other Brexit voters, have become politically homeless.
I have never regretted my vote. If anything, watching the EU officials’ reactions to the referendum, with their threats and bullying tactics, has made me even more certain that I want no part of this elitist club which has little respect for the principle of democracy.
Last year, polls showed that a majority of voters – Leave and Remain – accepted the referendum result and simply wanted the government to get on with it. Some polls now show growing support for a second referendum – and with those in power making such a hash of negotiations, it’s hardly surprising.
No doubt, some believe in good faith that a second referendum would be a democratic solution to the mess we’re currently in. Others clearly see it as the latest opportunity to overturn a vote that has been under attack since the result was announced on 24 June 2016.
I believe that any vote done before we officially Brexit which offers Remain as an option effectively wipes out the votes of those 17.4m voters from 2016 – and I can’t support that sort of undermining tactic.
My concern is that if Britain voted to Remain in a second referendum, it would not necessarily be possible on the same terms we had before – considering Article 50 has already been triggered. In which case, by the same logic, we could then call for a further referendum on the different options of remaining in the EU, with Leave as a third option again. Neverendum, anyone?
These days, I find myself wondering if my other half was right: maybe Brexit won’t happen. It’s a depressing thought, because, beyond Brexit, the wider implications for our democracy would be huge. A recent poll by the Centre for Policy Studies showed less than 10 per cent of Brits have faith in the government to do right by them. If Brexit doesn’t happen, it will likely sink even lower – because it would be a betrayal of everyone who, on 23 June 2016, put an X in a box believing it could make a difference.
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