Brexit is paralysing Britain. Parliament is deadlocked and the British people are deeply divided. In the unlikely event that Prime Minister Theresa May manages to get Parliament to agree to her Brexit deal, the real negotiations will then take a minimum of two years to complete. We face a new phase that is likely to be as every bit as divisive as we are experiencing now.
A recent poll in the Sunday Times showed only 11% of people thought our politics was working. A poll commissioned by HOPE not hate and Best for Britain in July found that 61% of Britons felt that there was not a political party that represented their views; this has now risen to 68% according to our YouGov poll released today.
There is also growing pessimism about the future. Our latest YouGov polling shows that 58% of the public say they are pessimistic about the future (up from 51% in July), and 67% of people don’t trust the Govt to deliver a good Brexit deal for them, up from 60% in July. Meanwhile, an incredible 58% of respondents to our YouGov poll in July saw themselves as either the most hardline Remainer (1-10%) or most hardline Leave voter (90-100%), underlining just how divided the country has become.
The combination of this loss of trust in the political system, the impasse over Brexit and a bitterly divided nation is a gift to the far right and extremists generally. We can’t go on like this.
A way must be found to bring people together, both in Parliament but more importantly to heal the divisions which have opened across our society. There is incredible antipathy towards Theresa May’s deal: just 5% of people “strongly support” it, according to Populus polling commissioned by HOPE not hate earlier this month. A new vote could be the best way of ensuring that there is popular endorsement for what happens next.
But to win such a vote, Remainers must offer a radical vision for all voters. This vision cannot be the status quo option as it was in 2016. Otherwise, we will be left with the same causes of Brexit, alongside a collapse in trust and a rise in people’s anger.
With such poor support for Theresa May’s deal, and political deadlock, we need to let the public have their say if we’re to build any sort of consensus.
More and more people are moving towards the idea of a second vote. In our exclusive YouGov figures released today, poll, 56% of voters would support a public vote on three options (backing Mrs May’s deal, making a clean break from the EU, or staying in the EU).
Writing in theFinancial Times recently, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested creating a ‘platform’ to allow discussion of the key drivers behind the Brexit vote – issues such as immigration, sovereignty and the state of our industrial towns and regions (the subject of a recent major report from HOPE not hate). By exploring both the causes and consequences of Brexit, he hoped that consensus could be forged.
HOPE not hate tested out Brown’s proposition with voters earlier this month (7 December Populus poll) and found that 48% of people supported the idea, with 28% disagreeing. While Remain voters were much more likely to support the idea, it was still supported by 33% of Leave voters (and opposed by 47%, though Ukip/Tory voters may have been hostile to a former Labour Prime Minister).
In our view, a Citizens’ Assembly should be convened to decide between no deal, a deal or a second referendum. It would take a few months to deliberate and decide, meaning Article 50 would need to be temporarily delayed. MPs such as Lisa Nandy have expressed support for this idea, as has Neal Lawson, from the left-of-centre think tank, Compass, seeing a link between Brexit and the ongoing democratic deficit in Britain.
“Over decades our politicians have refused to heed the signs of democratic decline. Instead of managing the tricky tensions, paradoxes and compromises of a complex twenty-first century society, our democratic system marginalised and humiliated so many people, for so long, that on that fateful day of June 23, 2016, they took their revenge,” he said.
One option that has been floated is that we create several regional Assemblies, involving a few hundred people each, which then feed into a central group.
There will be those who will cry foul and strongly object to this idea, of course. Many will say that ‘the people have spoken’. Yes, 52% of people voted for Britain to Leave the EU in June 2016, but there was no indication of what type of Brexit they voted for. Three-quarters of people in our July YouGov poll said that they “didn’t realise how complicated and difficult Brexit would be”.
After 30 months the Government failing to sort out Brexit, another solution has to be found. If something is not done, then we should expect further division, disillusionment and possibly disorder in the months to come – a gift to extremists and far-right populists, waiting eagerly in the wings.
Nick Lowles is chief executive of HOPE not hate