Untangling the UK from the EU is a massive task. And so it should be. Uniting Europe is a deadly serious endeavour. Clearly, leaving must be done with the permission of a convincing majority of citizens. But a simply-worded referendum, posing a three-line question, won’t do. If you call yourself a modern-day democracy, you have to have something fleshier in place.
The 23 June 2016 enquiry was consultative by definition. This is easy to forget. At the same time, it’d very wrong to undermine that outcome because the government wanted to find out the current national sentiment regarding Europe. It was an initial answer, one that helped recognize and frame a possible issue.
Having gone through the first stage, Britain now needs a second referendum on EU membership precisely because of the vote from two years ago. The country does have a problem with the EU. It wasn’t carefully piloted polls saying so after sounding out the opinion of just a few thousand; it came instead straight from the nation’s throat: a fairly loud No to the status quo, although only slightly more audible than the antagonising Yes.
All this has been officially acknowledged. A good job so far, but as yet an unfinished one; it has had the merit to get a much deeper – and previously missing – debate going on the EU. No doubt voters today are a lot more informed. They needed further advice after having been initially consulted. Kind of messy as a process, yes, but you had to start somewhere, and that’s been done admirably.
In other words: having shown an interest in the membership issue (although the 2016 turnout wasn’t that brilliant) and having now done more homework (two years of further researching and discussing the subject), the UK can be said to be ready to deliver its final say on an epochal question. Brits can’t prolong this any longer, just as Europeans’ patience can run out any day now.
The case for a second referendum really is that simple. In the face of a highly technical discussion, where impressions, hopes and fears play an extraordinary role, because they are real, but also hard to measure, the best approach is to kick off from somewhere – a blank page is any narrator’s curse –, and then write, delete, and write again, and so on, until eventually you finish your story. One everybody can read and understand. Not just in Britain.
A story that could turn into an awful saga, full of bloody squabbling and vendettas, if you don’t tie up today’s loose ends. So, go and vote again now that you know more, and put a stop to it – at least for another few decades. Then you can start again, if you like. Joining or quitting aren’t forever. Untangling isn’t either.