Kevin Maguire: Don't rule out a second EU referendum
Now the public are armed with the facts, Kevin Maguire asks whether should they be offered an EURef2
Ask Father Jack Hackett any question on Craggy Island and the pickled vintage priest’s reply was “Drink!” spliced with a “Feck” and an “Arse” to nonplussed Fathers Ted and Dougal in a classic Channel 4 comedy (regularly repeated on one of those TV stations with a number that sounds like a good cricket score).
Ask any MP what’s the biggest issue confronting this parliament and the odds are the answer will be “Brexit” with a curse chucked in for free from both Remainers – fearing leaving the European Union would be a historic disaster – and those Leavers already scenting betrayals and sell-outs.
My own entirely unscientific survey for this column of the seven MPs I recognised and bumped into during an hour in Portcullis House – three Tories, two Labour, a Lib and a Scots Nat – did indeed confirm the primacy of Brexit as the numéro un subject. Unsurprising really given the complexity, challenges and risks of moving out after 44 years of living under the same roof with our country’s closest neighbours.
Parliament certainly has its hands full – this week’s skirmishing and whipping a foretaste of larger, fiercer battles to come.
Arguing over who bought the Father Ted DVD and what share is owed on the long-term multi-media package are child’s play compared with negotiating trade deals so the M20 hard shoulder isn’t turned into a lorry park for truckers queuing to clear customs at Dover.
I suspect we’d hear the same answer from peers to my question but the same afternoon I chatted to only one member of that place – who did provide 100% confirmation – yet I readily concede the sample was under-sized, so in future I’ll make an effort to get along more often to the burgundy end of the building.
The collective knowledge on Europe and Brexit means the House of Lords hasn’t been this interesting since I was minding my own business in the press gallery at the back end of the 1980s when three lesbians interrupted proceedings by abseiling into the chamber with a ropey protest against the Thatcher government’s infamous Section 28 ban.
The referendum last year was the easy part of exiting the EU and as it becomes increasingly clear what waving goodbye actually involves – the public are now arguably better informed and constructively engaged as the practical realities, and those tricky critters called facts, begin to trump the depressingly frequent dubious propaganda issued by the rival camps – I buy the argument that people should be asked to decide on going or staying on the basis of a genuine choice.
As do a minority of MPs across most political parties way beyond the surveyed seven. I’m at a loss to see how a fresh referendum could be held but when there’s a touch of kicking the can down the road by adopting a transition period, rather than an immediate sharp break in March the year after next, anything is possible.
The lesson of the topsy-turvy last three years is never rule anything in or out when the unpredictable molten politics of the moment is destroying the prediction industry (this Mystic Mag is striving to put his crystal ball in a box, though temptation’s likely to prove irresistible in the future).
We live in an era when Donald Rumsfeld could even claim vindication after the premature invention of the theory of unknown unknowns.
The Brexit Parliament is living in history when its debates and decisions will be analysed for decades to come, raw material for Phd students struggling to create sense out of what at times verges on apocalyptic confusion.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror