Bring On That Second Brexit Vote
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Labour Party’s sudden shift on Brexit isn’t definitive and settles nothing – but in this endless saga of ruinous incompetence, it counts as a hopeful development. After dithering for months, Jeremy Corbyn has said he and his party will support a second referendum to avoid what he calls “a damaging Tory Brexit.”
About time. But it isn’t just a damaging Tory Brexit that the U.K. needs to avoid. It’s any kind of Brexit, including the supposedly less damaging Labour Brexit that Corbyn seems to have in mind.
Corbyn’s belated call for a new referendum was prompted by his party’s mounting discontent over its own muddled line. Recent defections of Remain supporters to a new Independent Group of former Tory and Labour MPs made the maneuver more urgent. But Corbyn, like many of the party’s supporters in the country, is no admirer of the European Union. He’s hoping to engineer a softer Brexit than the no-deal departure that Prime Minister Theresa May is dicing with.
He’s said he supports staying in some kind of customs union and wants liberal access to (though not full membership of) the single market. To be sure, this would be better than leaving with no deal – but that wouldn’t make it a good outcome. It would leave the U.K. as a second-class member of the EU, committed to follow most of its rules but with no say in what those rules should be.
If the country was unhappy with the EU before, consider how much more unhappy it would soon be under this dispensation. If this is the Labour Brexit that Corbyn wants, it’s a formula for simmering anger.
Remainers in the House of Commons need to take two steps. First, they should vote to extend – or, preferably, withdraw – the U.K.’s Article 50 notice to quit, on the grounds that the risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit is now intolerably high, and the lack of adequate preparation would make it a disaster.
With that done, they should vote to put the issue to a second referendum. MPs should admit that government and Parliament alike have been unable to devise an exit that makes sense for the country. Their advice to the electorate should be to look at what has been learned and reconsider.
This might not be what Corbyn wants. But if momentum toward a second referendum has increased, good. Tory and Labour MPs who put the country’s interests first should join the campaign to cancel Brexit with a people’s vote before it’s too late.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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