Britain needs a Brexit do-over referendum



January 22, 2019 - 10:13 AM

Britain’s holiday from history was supposed to end this week. After three years of bitter debate, Prime Minister Theresa May hoped Parliament would back the agreement for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union that she painstakingly negotiated over the past 18 months. On Tuesday, however, Parliament voted 2-to-1 against her deal, a humiliating defeat that leaves the future of Britain’s relationship with Europe as unsettled as ever.

The only real option is a do-over — a second referendum, this time with a clear sense of what the option of leaving entails. Polls indicate growing support for remaining in the EU, though the margins are hardly decisive. The idea that another popular vote is a subversion of democracy, as May has repeatedly claimed, ignores the reality that people have the right to change their mind. In fact, that’s what real democracy is all about.

The fatal flaw of May’s original strategy wasn’t so much the terms of her deal but how she got there. When her predecessor foolishly put the question of Britain’s EU membership up for a referendum in 2016, the government didn’t prepare for the possibility that people would vote to leave. Yet false promises of the huge financial windfall that would follow if London took back control from Brussels persuaded a narrow majority to vote for Britain to leave Europe.