EXCLUSIVE – Nigel Farage says "just maybe I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership".@Nigel_Farage | @Matthew_Wright | #wrightstuff pic.twitter.com/T0fROToskr
— The Wright Stuff (@5WrightStuff) January 11, 2018
When I saw this breaking on Twitter earlier I sort of expected he meant a referendum on the type of final deal with the EU, or a deal vs. no deal referendum. But no – as you can see in the video in the clip – Farage is saying he could contemplate a fresh in-out referendum to cement the issue for a generation. He says he is confident Leave would win with a bigger majority.
But why is he saying this? And why now?
Farage went off to meet Michel Barnier on Monday this week (news report and short Farage video from Reuters here). It sounds like Barnier laid out to him the sort of Brussels standard about Brexit at the moment, namely no cherry picking, and the – as the UK wants out of the Single Market and the Customs Union – the UK is going to end up with something akin to Canada’s CETA deal.
But surely Barnier repeating what has been known for a while was not enough to sway Farage?
Some other things must have shifted his view.
Farage loves being contrarian and like to be in the limelight, and now no longer running UKIP and things looking rocky for his mates Bannon and Trump in the USA, it’s time to make a stir on Brexit again. This is Alexander Clarkson’s view. A radical Brexiteer calling for a second EU referedum is about as contrarian as it gets.
There’s also the suspicion – not unjustified – that as the complexities of Brexit really loom into view, the will of the government to pull through with the whole thing (and to timetable by March 2019) might be waning. Making this call now is perhaps a way to sharpen the government’s resolve.
A second referendum that went narrowly for Remain would actually suit Farage pretty well, although he would never admit it, as then he can carry on sniping from the sidelines and whingeing about elites not taking the people seriously, but actually not have to take any responsibility for the very complicated business of making Brexit happen.
Also as @odtorson says in this tweet it’s probably better to be done with such a vote as soon as possible, because to wait until the pain of Brexit is really felt will not help Farage cement the Leave result.
There’s also the issue of timing. One would presume that a snap referendum would suit no-one, as polls are so close so as to mean both sides would want time to campaign. But if the UK were focused on campaigning again then there’s even less focus on actually making a deal happen.
But anyway, whatever his reasons are, I welcome this intervention from Farage. If the UK is to stay in the EU there is no way in my view that it can be done without a second referendum at some stage (although I really doubt whether such a vote would be possible before March 2019 – not least due to the ongoing complexity of agreeing a transition deal). And – as James Chalmers points out – Remain has a pretty big advantage in a second vote:
A second referendum has all sorts of problems but on current evidence, Remain would at least have the advantage of Theresa May having to make the case for Leave.
— James Chalmers (@ProfChalmers) January 11, 2018