18 August 2019
Though a second referendum might seem bad, pressing ahead with a ‘Hard Brexit’ would probably be worse, in the eyes of many Britons. Photo: Bloomberg
Though a second referendum might seem bad, pressing ahead with a ‘Hard Brexit’ would probably be worse, in the eyes of many Britons. Photo: Bloomberg

Another Brexit vote may be a way out for Theresa May

Even though the Brexit deadline is quickly approaching, the United Kingdom is still in a frustrating gridlock with the European Union (EU) over the exit negotiations.

Worse still, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s job is now on the line as 46 Tory MPs have signed a petition to move a no-confidence motion against her, just two signatures short of the necessary numbers required by the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership contest.

Meanwhile, nearly 700,000 British people took to the street in London last Saturday calling for a second Brexit referendum.

The march came despite the fact that May has time and again firmly rejected the idea, on the grounds that holding another referendum to overturn the 2016 Brexit mandate would damage the pillars of democracy.

According to some British media reports, the United Kingdom’s Department for Exiting the European Union is now secretly drafting a contingency plan in preparation for another referendum on the issue.

To be quite frank, trying to do an about-face on Brexit through holding another referendum is bad, but pressing ahead with a “Hard Brexit” regardless at the expense of Britain’s interests would probably be worse.

As London mayor Sadiq Khan put it when he addressed the crowd at the anti-Brexit rally last Saturday, why not remain in the EU if May is now only left with two options: either a “bad Brexit deal” or “no deal”?

Backpedalling over leaving the EU might prove a lesser evil for the British people compared to a poorly executed Brexit that would force the entire country into a corner.

Besides, the fact that 700,000 people were taking to the street in London, where there are more Londoners in favor of remaining in the EU than those for the Brexit, to demand another vote, plus the voices of the Scots and Northern Irish have already presented May with a strong public mandate to hold a second referendum.

With the threat of a coup within the Tory party looming large and the prospects of her cabinet being able to put forward a viable Brexit proposal in the short run remaining slim, holding a second referendum can be considered a way out for May at this point, as it is likely to both resolve the issue and save her job at the same time.

That said, the efforts in holding a second referendum would not only become futile but also mean more chaos for the country if the British people were to vote to leave the EU again in the second referendum.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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