by Dan Cooke
At the time of writing there are over 3 million signatories. In coming days it will probably continue to climb. But however many people eventually sign the petition for a referendum re-run it can only be an exercise in frustrated misdirection. The Leave vote creates a new political reality which only a time machine could undo and no democrat can ignore.
Yet, as we search for a path forward, it will become increasingly clear that the public does have to be consulted again before Britain finalises its exit from the EU – and that another referendum to approve or reject the terms of exit is the right way to do so. For Labour, even if it succeeds in electing a new leader, an explicit commitment to such a referendum in its manifesto for any snap election will probably be the only way it can build a national coalition of support. This means taking the position that Brexit is not inevitable because if exit terms are not approved the logical consequence is that Britain remains in the EU.
The key to understanding the referendum’s chaotic aftermath (and probably the result itself) is the false choice it presented between a known and unloved status quo and amorphous alternative that the Leave campaign skilfully preserved from any concrete definition. Only now is there beginning to be serious scrutiny of the real alternatives available, ranging from membership outside the EU of the European Economic Area or “EEA”, allowing Britain to preserve most Single Market rights, to a range of essentially theoretical alternatives that are only beginning to be sketched out.
Unsurprisingly, a dividing line is already beginning to crystallise around those (in both the Remain and Leave camps, and in all parties) who favour the EEA option and those who see it as inadequate.