I’m a Leaver who would be happy for a second referendum

At the Spectator

I voted Leave but if it looks like clearly being an economic disaster, then it’s ridiculous to pursue it whatever the cost. In no field does someone continue along the same course, knowing it will end in complete failure, whatever the consequences. It is true that there would be public anger at a second referendum, but there would be far more if the economy went down the toilet. There is also the fact that, while we voted to leave, we didn’t vote for any particular alternative; I very reluctantly cast my ballot, having previously decided to abstain, because I was assured – by actual Leave campaigners – that we would stay in the single market and have a relationship similar to Norway.

I have no idea why Theresa May has since adopted a hard-line approach; we didn’t vote for it, it’s economically inadvisable, and I don’t think there’s great public demand for it. It’s also very, very un-conservative – a basic principle of the philosophy is that huge changes are almost always by definition bad, which was paradoxically the core of the Leave campaign (for many a vote against mass immigration). It’s the principle laid out in Richard Dawkins’s classic The Blind Watchmaker, that small mutations are often advantageous but large ones mostly devastating. Whatever change we undergo in our relationship with Brussels it should be as small and subtle as is possible, for anything too drastic is almost certainly going to end terribly. We’ve even had politicians using the language of Utopians, accusing people of doing Britain down or wanting Brexit to fail because they have pointed out faults in the plan.

Read it all there

By the way I never claimed this to be some sort of Damascene conversion. Even on the day I was ambivalent and regretted it soon after. I wrote ages ago that we should have a second referendum on our new status as well. I appreciate politics dictates that we can’t, just that personally I wouldn’t take it as a personal insult, as some do, if we were asked again. And of course my pessimism may be misplaced and it will turn out fine. In the long term I’m sure we’ll be fine; but the problem with that is that in the short term we’re all alive.

Comments so far

  1. Don’t panic! We’ll all live, this was a democratic election not a revolution.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad here you clarify that you were always ambivalent and subsequently regretful; the Spec piece would’ve benefited from this clarification, especially given its title, which does position it as a Damascene claim.

    That said, I do find it difficult to understand how such a conservative fellow can prioritise perhaps a few percentage points’ economic output for the next decade over restoring national self-government for the centuries to come. The reductio ad Burkeiam you offer in the Spec piece, that it’s all just too radical, is clearly nonsensical: the EU has been and remains a dynamic force transforming British society from on-high, in the interests of an unaccountable establishment.

    And given that: there comes a point that if things are going to stay the same, they’re going to have to change. If that point never comes, then I’m not sure you’re a conservative as much as just plain passive.

    • Clever words Anonymous Burkeiam citer – but clever words don’t sort out a hard Irish Border. I live in Ireland prt of the year and can tell you the IRA are quite prepared to come out of the woodwork and blow up any and every border post the UK govt erects. Just one example of the mess Little Englanders clinging to outdated fantasies have got us into.

What do you think?

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