Regret stalks Britain as reality bites

All I want is EU: Teenagers protest in Westminster at the decision to leave the EU. © PA

The vote to leave the EU has thrown the UK’s economy, politics and the state of its union into chaos. Now roughly three million people want a second referendum. Is it just a pipe dream?

‘I wish we had the opportunity to vote again,’ said Mandy Suthi the day after she ticked a box to leave the European Union. ‘I would go back to the polling station and vote to stay.’

Others would probably join her. One Leave voter said she felt ‘conned’ and ‘a bit sick.’ In Manchester, a ‘worried’ man admitted that ‘I didn’t think my vote was going to matter.’

He now knows that he was wrong. Around 17.4m people voted to leave the EU, while 16.1m voted to remain. The consequences are massive. It could take years to disentangle Britain from Brussels, and most questions about the ‘terms of the divorce’ are still unanswered.

The turmoil has left some Leave voters appalled by the ‘lies’ they were told. On Friday morning, Nigel Farage said that it was a ‘mistake’ to say that £350m would go to the NHS each week.

On Newsnight that evening, Leave campaigner Daniel Hannan said that Brexit could still mean ‘free movement of labour’ for EU citizens, despite the strong emphasis on ‘controls’ over immigration during the last three months. His interviewer put his head in his hands: ‘That is completely at odds with what the public think they have just voted for.’

Now, even allowing for an element of cheating, around 3m people appear to have signed a petition asking for a second referendum. A poll by the Mirror found that 14% of Leave voters have changed their minds.

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff has said that the UK should be allowed to ‘reconsider the consequences’. After all, as some MPs and lawyers have pointed out, the referendum was not binding; Parliament could vote to block Brexit from happening.

But last week the EU president Jean Claude Juncker warned that ‘out is out’. And yesterday Farage was adamant: ‘it is not best out of three’.

Bregetting it

They are right, say some. Voters were warned that leaving would have consequences, and they chose it anyway. It is shocking to hear that they were so disenchanted they thought their vote wouldn’t count; vetoing the result would only damage their faith in democracy even more. Besides, most of those who signed the petition live in pro-EU cities — there is no guarantee that another vote would change anything.

We have to try, respond others. If more than 1.4m people are regretting their choice, they should be allowed to take it back and end the ‘nightmare’. If you buy a car, you are given a cooling-off period in case you change your mind. Why on Earth would you not have the same policy for something as important as a country’s future?

You Decide

  1. Should there be a second referendum on the EU?
  2. If there were, should 16- to 17-year-olds be allowed to vote in it?

Activities

  1. Write about a time when you made a decision you regretted later. What did you do next? Were you able to change your mind?
  2. Research another period of political upheaval in Britain’s history, such as the peasant’s revolt or the civil war. How did the public react? What decisions did politicians at the time make? Produce a report comparing it to Britain’s current situation.

Some People Say...

“The bravest thing a person can do is admit that they were wrong.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So Brexit might not even happen?
The referendum was ‘advisory’, meaning Parliament could in theory ignore its result. One Labour MP has already made a statement arguing that it should vote to ‘stop this madness’. Others have suggested that the next prime minister could delay triggering Article 50 (the formal mechanism for leaving the EU) until the public’s mood changes. But both actions could seriously damage voters’ trust in government.
If there were another vote would I get a say?
There have been protests by 16- and 17-year-olds demanding to take part in a decision that affects their futures. But it is unlikely that the rules would be changed in the event of a second vote. Then again, if you live in Scotland you might soon get to decide whether to join the EU as an independent country.

Word Watch

17.4m people
This was 51.9% of voters, with a fairly high turnout of 72%.
Terms of the divorce
Some of the unanswered questions include: how will Britain trade with the EU? What will happen to EU citizens living in Britain, and vice versa? Will Scotland be allowed to rejoin? What will Britain’s immigration policy look like?
£350m
This figure was repeatedly used to represent the amount that Britain contributes to the EU per week, despite being frequently disputed, as it did not take into account an automatic ‘rebate’. Yesterday the Leave campaigner Iain Duncan Smith joined Farage in disowning the promise to spend it on the NHS.
Free movement of labour
This is slightly different from the free movement of people. It means that only workers could move to the UK from the EU, and vice versa. Hannan added that no one in the Leave campaign has ‘ever tried to put a number’ on immigration, and voters would be ‘disappointed’ if they thought it would fall to zero.
3m people
The online petition saw the biggest surge of public support in the Parliament website’s history.

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