According to Downing Street, a second Brexit referendum is “not remotely on the cards.” Listening to the British Left, however, you’d think a repeat vote was already a done deal. After all, even though a clear majority of Britons voted to leave the EU last Thursday, liberal elites have rejected said majority’s verdict. Instead, they have focused on three potential scenarios that would prevent Brexit.
First off, consider the Scottish National Party (SNP) led by Nicola Sturgeon. Dedicated to socialism first and nationalism second, the SNP is threatening to veto Brexit. Constitutionally the SNP cannot do this, but it wants to use Brexit as a weapon to extract financial concessions from Westminster. As I noted during Scotland’s 2014 referendum on whether to remain in the U.K., Scotland’s economy is inherently weak, plagued by decades of left-wing economic mismanagement. And today, because of the collapse in oil prices, were Parliament to cut off wealth transfers to Scotland, it would become a colder, albeit not-quite-as-horrific version of Venezuela. The SNP leadership knows this. And for that reason they will likely accept a deal that grants some form of EU rights in terms of movement of persons and access to markets, alongside new money from Parliament. Still, by using the referendum’s outcome as a blackmail weapon, the SNP is making Brexit more complicated and unnecessarily expensive by likely requiring further subsidy payments from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.
Next up is last Friday’s now-viral comment by the user “Teebs” on the Guardian’s opinion website. Teebs claims that pro-Brexit MP Boris Johnson (the likely replacement for David Cameron) will have to abandon Brexit: “If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering article 50 [starting the two-year countdown for UK withdrawal], then he is finished. . . . If he runs, wins, and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over — Scotland will break away, there will upheaval in Ireland, a recession . . . broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished.” Teebs continues, “Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction that cannot be borne.” This comment has sent the British intellectual Left into emotional rapture. It must, so the desperate consensus goes, be right! But Teebs here expresses a confidence unbound from reality. Whether Britain’s next prime minister is Johnson or someone else, and whether or not a recession looms, the next occupant of No. 10 Downing Street will not be able to escape implementing Brexit, because it represents the vested will of the British people. Constitutional convention and democratic responsibility require its fulfillment. This was the existential purpose of the referendum: to settle the question.
But while Teebs’s analysis is misguided, it is not without support. On the contrary, pro-EU Britons are desperately calling for a second ballot, or a rejection of the first referendum, or something — anything — to stop Brexit. Joining a flood of yuppie social-media posters attacking pro-Brexit voters as psychopathic idiots, the Brexit rejectionists are, put simply, sore losers. Instead of accepting the referendum’s outcome, they hope their wailing and screeching and media preaching will shame conservatives and their fellow pro-Brexit liberals into surrender. It’s not going to happen, but it does muddy the waters.
#related#Finally, there’s the effort by certain members of Parliament to claim that Brexit cannot proceed absent explicit Parliamentary approval. Although this is true on paper, were Parliament to reject the will of the people as rendered in the referendum, it would be a democratic crisis. The British people would become subjects to those who have sworn to serve them. Superseding the referendum would represent the immolation of the Magna Carta and bring a sad end to British democracy.
Absurd as the aforementioned anti-democratic forces might be, they are not unique to Britain. Consider today’s Brexit assessment from the Washington Post: “Brexit is a reminder that some things just shouldn’t be decided by referendum.” Decrying Brexit’s trust in individual freedom, the Post draws parallels to America by lamenting California’s 1978 property-tax-increase ballot restriction. It would be funny were it not sad. Regardless, the timeline and shape of Brexit is not yet clear. But two things are clear: It will happen, and the Left is openly disdainful of the democratic process that led to it. A new paraphrase of the classic Orwellian motto springs to mind: “All questions are equal, but some answers are more equal than others.”