LONDON—Ever since a slim majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union, there’s been a hardy band of refuseniks—dubbed the Remoaners—who claim Brexit was secured by a tissue of lies and the voters should be allowed a do-over.
The winning side, and many moderate Remain voters, have dismissed these calls as the belly-aching of sore losers for more than a year and a half. That changed Thursday when Nigel Farage—Britain’s most prominent anti-EU voice—abruptly changed his position and conceded that it might be necessary to hold a second vote in order to end the bitter recriminations.
“My mind is actually changing,” said Mr. Brexit in a TV interview. “Maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum.”
Fellow radical Brexit campaigners Andy Wigmore and Arron Banks, who ran the Leave.EU campaign group, immediately leapt in to back his stunning words.
Farage and his madcap anti-European colleagues in UKIP and beyond share the view of arch-Remainers who say that Prime Minister Theresa May is doing a dreadful job of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. It has become clear that many of the claims made by the pro-Brexit campaign during the referendum will not be delivered by this government.
Whether that is due to poor negotiation or because of a logical fallacy at the heart of the Brexit campaign remains an open question.
Either way, there is a very strong chance that no one will be terribly happy with the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union. Parliament will vote on whether to accept the agreement at some point before March 2019.
Veteran politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and Lord Adonis, who quit as Theresa May’s National Infrastructure Commission chairman this month, have been lining up to say British voters should be given the chance to reject that deal once its terms have been secured.
“What is for certain is that the Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never, ever, ever give up. They will go on whinging and whining and moaning all the way through this process,” Farage said on Channel 5 talk show The Wright Stuff.
“So maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership… unless you want to have a multiple-choice referendum, which would confuse people. I think that if we had a second referendum on EU membership we would kill it off for a generation.
“The percentage that would vote to leave next time would be very much bigger than it was last time round. And we may just finish the whole thing off. And Blair can disappear off into total obscurity.”
With British Twitter reaching for the smelling salts, Farage explained to The Sun that his change of heart was motivated by a lack of faith in Theresa May and her team securing a deal that would make Britain sufficiently independent.
“We have an establishment and a Parliament that completely refuses to accept the result of the referendum. And we have to show that while we don’t want a second referendum, if they push us to it we are not afraid,” he said.
The polling on a second referendum is far from clear, with most people saying they would stand by their votes from the first referendum.
There are many British politicians who accept that Brexit will go ahead but wish to retain single-market access or even stay inside Europe’s customs union. Compromise deals such as this are anathema to the UKIP veterans.
Arron Banks, the author of The Bad Boys of Brexit and the biggest financial backer of the Leave campaign, backed Farage. “Alas we always knew the Tories couldn’t be trusted to deliver Brexit. The cabinet is solidly Remain and this fight will have to be re-run.”
Banks, who accompanied Farage on his early pilgrimage to Trump Tower in 2016, pumped his money into the campaign via Leave.EU—the unofficial Brexit group that ran a far more raucous and combative campaign that the official Leave campaign which was dominated by Conservative MPs.
These more radical Brexit campaigners have always advocated Britain cutting and running from the EU without settling debts and attempting to retain a close relationship. Their shock call to consider a second referendum demonstrates exactly why they were kept out of the more mainstream, official campaign.
Even UKIP, which is no longer led by Farage, claimed they have gone too far. The new leader, Henry Bolton, said: “The party opposes a second referendum. It would undermine the fabric of our democratic principles and would weaken the clarity and effectiveness of democratic decision.”
No one in No. 10 is currently willing to countenance a second referendum, but Britain continues its inexorable lurch toward a deal that is hated by voters on all sides. It’s impossible to predict how such a volatile electorate would react, but Farage is almost certain to be standing nearby with a lit match.