This Side of the Pond – Oct. 25

By Sarah Pridgeon

If you could go back in time and change a decision you’ve come to regret, would you do it? I can think of one or two instances in which my answer would be yes, such as when I thought it would be a great idea to bite down on a pizza while the cheese was still sizzling or the day I thought I could pull off a “trendy” shell suit for non-uniform day at school.
But what if making use of the benefit of hindsight meant unpicking a decision that represented the will of your nation? What if you could see a choice was made without the full facts and that its consequences would not be what you were promised?
An estimated 700,000 Brits marched the streets of London on Saturday in the largest ever demonstration of its kind, all of them there to demand the right to second guess themselves. Now we’re entering the final stretch of Brexit negotiations, a fair number of my countrymen feel they ought to have a chance to give that voting thing a second crack of the whip.
Things haven’t been going well in the Brexit camp, you see. Prime Minister Theresa May has been flailing and straining through negotiations and getting absolutely nowhere.
The EU won’t budge and nor will we. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and a man who has managed to look cantankerous in every photograph ever taken of him, up to and including the one where he was eating an ice cream cone, thinks we’re out of our minds with our proposals.
We’ve only got until March 29 to get this figured out, after which we’re either leaving the EU with a plan MacGyver would deem “a bit slapdash”, or we’re delaying the inevitable so we can bicker for a little bit longer, or we’re leaving without a plan at all. I won’t go into the intricacies of what seem like hundreds of proposals that have been tried and failed – we’d be here until the Brexit deadline had passed.
Suffice to say, poor old May has been back and forth to Brussels with one suggestion after another while trying to keep rebellion in check within the House of Commons. Meanwhile, I find the question of whether there should be a “people’s vote” quite fascinating, democratically speaking.
The motivation for a lot of people seems to be that the Brexit campaign was prone to telling fibs. It claimed Brexit would be easy, that we wouldn’t owe the EU any money, that we’d have a trade deal in place and that the borders between countries would still be frictionless.
Those asking for another vote thus argue that a lot of people had no idea what they were voting for and should be given the option to weigh up the question with the information now available – including the difficulties we seem to be having in avoiding a bum deal.
Then there’s the idea that the referendum results are quite literally a thing of the past. It may not seem that long ago (unless you’re Theresa May’s increasingly gray hair), but some have argued that the people who voted on that day in June, 2016 are not the same people who would be voting today.
I read somewhere recently that the demographic most strongly in favor of Brexit was older folk, while those who most wanted to remain in the EU were the youngest. Business titan Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, believes enough of the former will have shuffled off their mortal coil in the next couple of years, while enough of the latter will have sloped their way past adolescence, that a second referendum would be guaranteed to reject Brexit completely.
Of course, you could argue that, if age is an important factor, the people in the next age group down will have come to think Brexit is a wonderful idea by then. But at that point my head begins to swim.
In Crook County, we vote on issues such as mill levies at regular intervals. This, in a nutshell, is to make sure we can keep an eye on what boards and districts are doing and refuse to give them any more money if they’ve been wasting it on Lamborghinis and wine. Is this “people’s vote” all that different?
Then you have the argument that, even if the British public had been given nothing but the facts before the first referendum and it hadn’t descended into scaremongering, we couldn’t have known how the negotiations would pan out. Today, the omens of economic hardship are much clearer.
“I think it’s very rare in life that we get to use the benefit of hindsight,” said legendary soccer player Gary Lineker in a video supporting the call for a vote. We didn’t know things would go this badly, he said, so we should be allowed to change our minds.
So what would make some people rail against the idea? For some, it’s the unfairness of suddenly introducing a two-referendum process, which was not what was promised and undermines the point of the first vote.
For others, it seems wrong to argue that a referendum was inappropriate because the issue was too technical for a layman to make judgment on, but then suggest a second referendum would somehow not be. Some feel a second vote would erode faith in the process to the point that referendums are no longer seen as decisive, but as a provisional expression of whim.
Others argue this might not be the get-out-of-jail-free card that Remain voters hope it will be. Article 50 has been triggered, invoking the process of removing the UK from the union, and only the union itself can decide whether we can take our words back. If they deign to serve us humble pie, they could also theoretically introduce conditions, such as that Britain will have to enter the Euro currency.
And of course, there are those who argue it’s undemocratic to revisit a decision when there has been no radical change in facts. We always knew the government might make a mess of things, they say, and that the negotiations might not go in our favor.
I’m not sure which side I come down on if I remove the voice of emotion that’s telling me anything’s got to be better than Britain getting left out in the cold with nothing to show for all this anguish. Should the tradition of process win the day, or the possibility of redemption?