At the risk of stating the [insert your expletive of choice] obvious, the question asked at the EU referendum (‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’) contained such an intrinsic imbalance that it has resulted in the impossibility of there ever being a clear consensus of the way forward. We were not asked to choose between two different but tangible options (do you support the policies of party a, b, c or d?), but between the tangible status quo and an intangible ‘not the status quo’. And because choosing the intangible option is leading us, dream-like, down a misty path towards who-knows-what, I’m happy to follow the advice of P. J. Kavanagh and “never to be afraid of the deafeningly obvious, it is always news to somebody.”
Being a member of the EU meant (means) something very real. It doesn’t matter whether you like it, dislike it, or want to improve it, there is a reasonably clear ‘it’, a substantial ‘it’ that can be grasped by the mind, that doesn’t need to be imagined, an ‘it’ that actually exists, that you like, dislike or want to improve. In terms of the 2016 referendum (was it really that long ago?) this meant that whether you voted Remain or Leave, your reference point was our (then) current status as a member of the EU. But what were you actually voting for? What did you hope to achieve by voting the way you did?
If you voted Remain this is a reasonably straight forward question to answer. You voted for the tangible status quo. Even if you were not entirely happy with this status quo (and that was probably the situation for most of us) this was the clear and concrete situation which we wanted to retain (and improve from the inside). But if you voted ‘not the status quo’ there was no clear and concrete situation which you were actually voting for. At the very best, each voter who voted Leave had an imagined situation they were voting for, a situation that, because it was imagined, may or may not have been realist or achievable. But even in the very unlikely situation that all people voting Leave had a clear imagined scenario they were voting in favour of, it, by definition, was subjective. It would have been impossible for all Leave voters to be imagining the same future scenario. However much some on the Leave side of the argument may argue to the contrary, it is utterly impossible for there to be a clear and tangible situation that they were all in favour of. It was impossible for Leave voters to know what they were voting for!
This is why there has to be a second referendum on the proposed scenario post Brexit. Whilst such a proposed imagined scenario will not be as tangible as the more concrete status quo, it will hopefully (to use a phrase from my days as a Careers Adviser) be the result of a well-informed and realistic decision. This means that the Brexit deal that the Government and their Civil Service advisers negotiate and lay before the country has had all the relevant information taken into account and (within the limits of an inherent uncertainty) that the resulting imagined future economic and political relationships have a realistic chance of coming about. This will, at the very least, mean that we have a clear and tangible (if not concrete) image that our minds can grasp and which we can decide whether we approve or not.
I feel somewhat embarrassed making this analysis because, as I’ve said, it all seems so very obvious. Maybe it will be news to some people. Or maybe it is just another of those inconvenient truths – a truth that is in danger of getting in the way of a ‘good’ Brexit story. Either way, it’s “deafeningly obvious” that the Emperor has no clothes on, and baby it’s cold out there!