Nigel Farage continues to surprise, says James Blitz in the Financial Times. This time he has raised the prospect of a second referendum on Brexit. Britain has got used to pro-Europeans calling for one, such as Tony Blair and Gina Miller, but no one would have predicted such an intervention from the “prime mover” behind Brexit. His aim, he declared on television last week, is to kill off all the “whining and moaning”.
Given that Britain is heading inexorably for the exit in March 2019, his motivations are hard to discern, but what he has achieved is to give pro-Europeans – who are always accused of “not abiding by the will of the people” – permission to ask for one too. EU council president Donald Tusk, supported by EU commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker, seized on the “mounting speculation” to say that the EU’s door is still open, says Nick Gutteridge in The Sun. The bookies, says CityAM, cut the odds on a second referendum from 10/1 to 5/1.
Nigel still says no
Despite the media fuss, Farage has explicitly said he does not want a second referendum; rather he fears one is becoming inevitable. His concern, shared by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is that Brexiteers are now outnumbered in parliament and Remainers have the upper hand. Johnson reportedly believes Brexit could be stopped by an “establishment intent on keeping the UK in the EU”, says Iain Burns in the Daily Mail, and has apparently told allies that Theresa May could be pushed into accepting a “soft exit” – which would render the Brexit vote a “total waste of time”.
What could “scupper” the successful delivery of Brexit in Johnson and Farage’s eyes is the “ongoing cabinet tussle” over Britain’s future relationship with the EU, says Asa Bennett in The Daily Telegraph. Remainers such as Philip Hammond, the chancellor – who has clearly made up his mind after “infamously” threatening a new economic model if Britain was shut out of the EU’s markets – have been pushing for Britain to stick closely to EU rules.
As the chancellor explained to German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag, “whatever people say, in practice they have a strong attachment to a European-style market economy, with strong social welfare, strong labour protection and strong environmental rules”. But why bother leaving, ask Leave colleagues, if you’re still behaving like a member? Brexiteers such as Michael Gove envisage this as a “new chapter” in British history. Since history is “written by the winners”, Brexiteers must “make sure to help write it”.
Time for a real debate
It’s interesting to see the Brexit debate get “much closer to the real issues” than it did during the 2016 referendum campaign, says David Pannick in The Times. This makes a second referendum, on whether we should stay in the EU or leave on the terms available, a “possible outcome”.
Negotiations have “exposed the financial costs of leaving”, along with the difficulties of securing a satisfactory deal on vital matters including trade and security without “continuing jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice and without undermining the Northern Ireland peace process”.
What’s more, “restoring sovereignty to parliament” means “conferring extensive powers on ministers, and creating considerable legal uncertainty”, which is also causing the government difficulty in getting a withdrawal bill through the House of Commons.
But as Keir Starmer, the shadow secretary of state, points out, if a transitional agreement is reached in 2018, to take effect from withdrawal on 29 March 2019, there would be no point having a second referendum when a final deal is agreed in 2020-21. “By that time the UK would no longer be a member of the EU.”