May takes ‘risk of her life’ in Ireland talks

Stuck on EU: May and European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. © Getty

Should the UK hold another referendum on Brexit? Developments in the talks, not least on the matter of Ireland, are causing fury and confusion. Some think that a second vote is needed.

Another week, another Brexit brouhaha.

Yesterday, the UK and the EU came close to striking a deal on Ireland. The two sides proposed that EU rules could continue to apply to Northern Ireland after Brexit. This would remove the need for new border controls between Ireland and the UK, which neither side wants.

However, the idea that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would get different deals angered many political groups — including the DUP, Theresa May’s partners in government. One journalist called the proposal “the political risk of [May’s] life”.

The deal remains up in the air. But negotiators are confident that it will be secured within a week.

For now, only one thing is clear: the vision of Brexit presented by the Leave campaign is becoming ever more remote. The Irish deal, if it is finalised, would hardly be a victory for British “sovereignty”. Meanwhile, the hefty divorce bill undermines the promise of more money to spend on the NHS.

Some are now renewing calls for a second referendum. This idea has been around since the days after the first referendum, when four million signed a petition for another poll. But those voices were in the minority: Remainers generally accepted the result.

That may be changing. This weekend, the Mail on Sunday published an opinion poll on the issue. Half of those polled wanted another referendum once the EU’s final deal is on the table; only 34% did not.

On the same day, Tony Blair, former prime minister, confirmed that he is working to stop Brexit. “When the facts change,” he told BBC Radio4, “I think people are entitled to change their mind.” Labour, which Blair once led, now refuses to rule another referendum out. The government is against the idea.

The suggestion of a second vote angers Leavers, not least because they could lose it. Both Denmark and Ireland have voted against EU treaties in the past, only to accept them in a rerun of the referendum.

The UK’s case is different. The country may not even be allowed to stay in the EU. But say it could. Would another referendum be a good idea?

Deal or no deal?

No way, say some. If Remain won, Leavers would rightly feel cheated and ask for a third vote, settling nothing. And if the UK never left the EU, people would feel that politicians ignore public opinion when it suits them. This would deepen distrust of Westminster — a major cause of Brexit in the first place.

Get real, reply others. The first referendum never asked people what kind of Brexit they want. Given how controversial the negotiations are, that question now has to be asked. Polls show that people are coming round to the idea of a second vote. Ignoring their concerns would be an insult to democracy.

You Decide

  1. Should the UK vote again on Brexit?
  2. Are referendums a good way to settle political issues?


  1. Imagine a second referendum, as described in this article, is to be held tomorrow. Write the exact question that should be put to voters, making sure that the wording is as clear and unbiased as possible.
  2. Get your teacher to choose the best answer to Activity 1. Then hold the referendum as a class. Are the results surprising? Discuss.

Some People Say...

“Without Britain, Europe would remain only a torso.”

Ludwig Erhard

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The EU refuses to discuss trade with the UK until the status of the Irish border is settled. The border is currently open and invisible, and everyone wants it to stay that way. But if the UK leaves the EU entirely, barriers will have to go up to regulate the flow of people and goods. Yesterday’s proposal is a compromise: Northern Ireland would keep enough EU rules to allow the border to stay open.
What do we not know?
If this plan will go ahead. The DUP effectively vetoed it, arguing that it would “separate” Northern Ireland politically and economically from the rest of the UK. Regions that voted Remain, like London and Scotland, complained that it would be unfair to let only one territory keep EU rules. And hardline Leavers hated the idea that any UK region could do this.

Word Watch

A loud and angry commotion.
Since June’s election, when she lost her majority, May has depended on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to govern. As its name suggests, the Northern Irish party is firmly opposed to anything that divides the UK.
Divorce bill
Last week, it was reported that the UK would have to pay around £50 billion when it leaves — a far higher sum than the government initially claimed.
Opinion poll
The poll is the first to ask about a second referendum since news of the large divorce bill — which very few Britons are happy about — was reported last week.
Denmark and Ireland
Denmark did this in 1992-93; Ireland in 2001-02, and again in 2008-09. In all cases, voters initially rejected new EU laws, then accepted them in a second vote after Europe addressed some of their concerns.
Allowed to stay
The law is unclear on whether the UK can stop Brexit on its own. In reality, the EU would probably agree to let it change its mind.
Settling nothing
When successive referendums ask the same question, the situation is known as a “neverendum”.

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