A Second Referendum for Britain?

A Second Referendum for Britain?

By Gillian Gilbert, Staff Member

As Brexit negotiations reach critical mass, the possibility of a second referendum on the Britain’s exit from the European Union has re-emerged. In 2016 British citizens voted, by a narrow majority, to leave the European Union.[1] Both the political and economic challenges of leaving the Union have proved daunting during negotiations. Untangling Britain from the Union while attempting to ensure economic prosperity and political success has left many wondering if a second referendum could be in order before Britain is set to depart from the Union on March 29th of next year.[2]

Theresa May’s ongoing attempts to negotiate with both the Union and Parliament have drawn comparisons to Alice in Wonderland – a circular conversation showing no signs of progression beyond mounting frustration.[3] Earlier this week Theresa May declared the next seven days were “critical” for Brexit negotiations, following the resignation of key cabinet officials and overreaching criticism of May’s draft agreement.[4] The seven day period cumulates with a summit meeting in Brussels with EU leaders on November 25th to review the current draft agreement.[5]

A key question emerges as whispers of a second referendum grow- would a second referendum reflect the democratic will of the people? Organizations calling for a second referendum emphasize how complex the reality of leaving the EU has become-  a reality they claim the British voters did not understand at the time of the first vote. [6] However, the British government had the legal ability to ignore the first vote and continue about with “business as usual” but the popular momentum behind Brexit kept leaving the EU on Parliament’s docket.[7] Pro-Brexit commentators emphasize that a second vote would heighten internal divisions and minimize the democratic process which resulted in Brexit.[8]

The momentum for a second referendum could reach an apex following an unsuccessful meeting in Brussels on November 25th. However, another referendum seems unlikely even as support builds. Simply put, the nearing deadline and push comes to shove politics will likely bring Brexit. However, the growing frustration with the ongoing negotiations could push Theresa May to consider ‘soft Brexit’ alternatives which had previously been left off the table in favor of Euro-skeptic policies.

[1] EU Referendum Results, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/politics/eu_referendum/results (last visited Nov. 23, 2018).

[2] Stephen Castle, As Brexit Options Dwindle, New Momentum for a 2nd Referendum, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2018).

[3] Rebecca Mead, With the People’s Vote March, Brexit Goes Down the Rabbit Hole, The New Yorker (Oct. 23, 2018). https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/with-the-peoples-vote-march-brexit-goes-down-the-rabbit-hole.

[4] Stephen Castle, Theresa May: ‘The Next 7 Days Are Critical’ for Brexit Deal, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2018).

[5] Id.

[6] People’s Vote, https://www.peoples-vote.uk/we_need_a_vote (last visited Nov. 23, 2018).

[7] Benjamin J.W. Eddington, A Poorly Decided Divorce: Brexit’s Effect on the European Union and United Kingdom, 41 Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 101, 126 (2018).

[8] Tom Harris, People’s Vote Campaigners Don’t Care That a Second Referendum Would Destroy Trust in Politics, The Telegraph (Nov. 21, 2018, 2:41PM) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/11/21/peoples-vote-campaigners-dont-care-second-referendum-would-destroy/.