People's Vote march, 2018. Photo: Wikimedia People's Vote march, 2018. Photo: Wikimedia

Re-running the EU referendum would be massively undemocratic and could spell the end of Corbynism, argues Susan Ram

With the UK’s departure from the European Union now just five months away, calls for a rerun of the referendum of June 2016 are at crescendo pitch. Champions of this demand, now cannily renamed the “People’s Vote”, mustered their troops very successfully in London on October 20 for what amounted to a love fest for the EU, (that cuddly, ‘progressive’, neoliberal juggernaut) combined with attacks on Corbyn and the left. 

We at Counterfire adamantly oppose this effort to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum – the largest vote in UK history. Whatever its form, and irrespective of any trendy title dreamed up to disguise its class origins and anti-left political intent, the call for a second Brexit referendum must be resisted – and its real content and purposes exposed.

To begin with, the demand is profoundly, and obviously, undemocratic. The message it sends out to the 52 per cent of voters who in 2016 opted for Leave is saturated incontempt. While Russian meddling, breaches of spending rules, and other factors have been invoked by Remainers as ‘explanations’ for the surprise result, these are trumped by the endless refrain that Leave voters – including those from Britain’s most deprived communities – were essentially stupid and incapable of rational choice. 

Even if it could be contrived by some dubious juggling of the law, a British Mark-2 referendum would offer no way out of the current calamitously mismanaged impasse. Despite the claims of key Establishment figures (among them Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6 whose crystal ball assures him that a second vote will ‘heal’ the country’s Brexit divide and ‘put the issue to rest’), the result is again likely to be very close. Rather than soothe and salve, a ‘people’s vote’ will add fuel to the fire, infuriating large sections of voters while acting as a recruiting sergeant for the far right. 

The heady rhetoric invoked by advocates of a ‘people’s vote’ disguises its core purpose, which is to save Theresa May’s skin – and keep a Corbyn-led Labour government at bay by means of a reconstituted political ‘centre’. This is the real nature of the game. For those in doubt, a look at the alliances and photo calls that ornamented last Saturday’s march is instructive: the gruesome twosome of Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry; Alastair Campbell clasping his pet dog to his bosom while waxing lyrical on people power; Delia Smith leading choruses of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” 

The demand for a second referendum is in fact the battle cry of Britain’s extreme centre. It seeks to divide the left while feeding cynically on the ongoing feud within the British ruling class regarding the nation’s relationship with the EU. Seen in that light, calling for a ‘people’s vote’ is a diversion from the real issues confronting the country – tackling poverty and homelessness, shoring up the NHS, aiding left-behind communities and regions, promoting a green economy, and many more. 

To address these issues, we demand a ‘people’s vote’ of an altogether different kind. We call for a general election now. 

Susan Ram

Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.