This is the perplexing question of our time and I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject.
1) To claim that the UK should not be permitted a second referendum because the will of the people was clearly expressed in June 2016 is just plain wrong. We know that the Leave campaign was riddled with dodgy claims, such as the ludicrously misleading £350 million per week claim that (as of 29th September 2018) apparently 42% of the British public still believed! There is also the issue of Russian influence and interference, which is repeatedly swept under the carpet but must have been significant with such a close referendum result.
Most significantly, the 52% did not know exactly what they were voting for and were promised dazzling, bright “sunlit uplands“, a land flowing with the milk and honey of freedom from constraints and a trade bonanza. Just take a look at these claims, which have been exposed as utterly hollow.
So, that’s why we should have another vote to confirm the will of the people. We can clearly see now how complicated and costly untangling ourselves from the EU will be. In terms of the price paid, please note that already we have lost the equivalent of £500 million per week due to the decision made on 26th June 2016 and our actions since. Government forecasts suggest that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller under a “no deal” best case scenario after 15 years, than if we stayed in the EU. Surely, very few people voted to be poorer and those who did were certainly not considering the interests of those are most vulnerable in our society and subsist on the breadline.
2) Nevertheless, I can see the merits to accept May’s Brexit deal for now, working towards “near-frictionless trade” with the EU and keeping the “Norway-style” option as a “Plan B” if a bespoke arrangement does not emerge from the negotiations. There are clear benefits to leaving the EU in terms of fishing and agriculture, which are hardly being mentioned at the moment but are important to many communities across the UK.
We have probably lost so much already in terms of EU agencies and bank HQs that have relocated away from the EU, maybe we should persist on a sensible, gradual uncoupling from Brussels and pursue the opportunities this bring, whilst seeking to maintain as much of our trading relationship as possible. I can see that a second referendum would be very disruptive, though if Parliament is deadlocked then that will become the best way out of the impasse.
Mind you, how much of the current Westminster inertia is based on lack of an overall majority for any one party and what chance is there of a General Election delivering a more decisive, satisfactory result? There is also some doubt about whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 and easily maintain our current EU membership. Moreover, if there the first referendum result was reversed, would too many people feel betrayed and disillusioned by British politics, sowing the seeds of future discord. Yet again, we can see the merits of May’s Brexit deal and only wish that she was better able to sell this across party lines…
3) Whatever happens, we must learn from this shambles. Referendums are complex, emotive and divisive. They do not solve issues but simply unleash mayhem. They are a distraction from the serious and important business of government. Think of how much could have been accomplished in the last 30 months if we were not so distracted by Brexit. Is the price of a spurious vision, “Britannia Unchained”, truly worth the uncertainty and chaos.