This blog was originally published in Green World magazine.
Theresa May’s snap General Election gamble, seeking a mandate for a hard Brexit, backfired spectacularly. The result undermined rather than validated the Tories’ damaging plans. Yet 83 per cent of people voted for a party committed to leaving not only the EU but also the single market, didn’t they?
Admittedly, there are no differences in policy between Labour and the Tories on membership of the single market and freedom of movement. However, it seems that a resigned acceptance of the UK leaving the EU led many Remainers to choose the party they believed would negotiate the least damaging Brexit. This was also an election fought largely on domestic issues, so to use the outcome as vindication for any sort of Brexit is disingenuous.
But Labour and the Tories should take note of how public mood is shifting. Recent surveys suggest a majority of people would now like to see either Brexit abandoned completely, a second referendum, or a distinctly softer Brexit. A recent survey of Labour members showed more than 80 per cent oppose leaving the Single Market.
Public attitudes towards Brexit are in constant flux. We cannot forever rely on the outcome of a single question on a particular day to determine our future relationship with Europe. The nuances and complexities of our relationship with our European neighbours are becoming clearer as are the protections offered by the EU to our environment and workers’ rights. These are issues that Greens highlighted during the referendum campaign, but such concerns were drowned out by deceitful messaging from the far right and right-wing media.
Ultimately, we will arrive at a new fork in the road, where people should again be given the opportunity to decide which direction they want the country to go in. With an idea of the Brexit deal on the table, we will be able to compare this with what we get by remaining in the EU.
So the idea of a ratification referendum is now more important than ever – and it must include an option for the UK to remain a member of the EU. This is not just wishful thinking by ‘remoaners’. A chorus of high profile voices have urged Britain to stay, from writer and philosopher Professor A. C. Grayling to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
Of course to become a reality, the idea of a ratification referendum will need cross-party support. The Lib Dems have pledged support for a second referendum on the Brexit deal, but so far Labour have resisted the idea. However, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of Labour’s highest profile politicians, recently backed a second referendum, which will likely encourage other Labour politicians to follow suit. Even those Tories desperate to avoid a hard Brexit cliff-edge scenario might regard another referendum as a way out of the quagmire.
Leaving the EU is not inevitable; indeed, it is less inevitable now than before the general election. Green MEPs will continue to portray both the EU and the Brexit process as accurately and positively as possible to help inform voters ahead of any potential ratification referendum.