A nation divided

So the results of the European elections are in, and they reveal that the population, or at least the 37% of it not too alienated to vote, is almost completely polarised on the Brexit question. This is not particularly surprising, given that politicians at Westminster have spent the last three years systematically trashing the whole concept of compromise, but it is still quite depressing.

What is clear is that the next Prime Minister, whoever he or she turns out to be, will have absolutely no democratic mandate to take the UK out of the EU, or indeed to stay in. In a rational world there would be a general election, but it seems unlikely that a new Conservative leader would care to take another chance with the electorate, so it’s just about possible to imagine that he or she might seek to circumvent a deadlocked parliament by going straight to the people with a second referendum. It is looking like Labour, which haemorrhaged votes to more openly pro-remain parties, is belatedly coming round to the idea that a new plebiscite is the way to break the impasse.

On the other hand, the Tories are almost certainly going to pick a hard-core leaver to succeed Theresa May, and there isn’t really much anyone could do to stop them leading the country over the cliff when the article 50 extension runs out in October. There is talk that more sensible members of the parliamentary party would support the opposition in a no-confidence vote in such circumstances, but that seems like a slender thread to hang the future of the nation on.

Either way the newly respectable far-right are going to be happy – if there is another referendum they will have a betrayal narrative to exploit (and they may even win again), and if there is a no-deal exit the resulting chaos will be a great opportunity for recruitment.

Can an unhappy outcome be averted? Perhaps, if the left seizes the opportunity to counter the tide of reaction by positively making the case for internationalism and tolerance, but it’s going to be a hard struggle.

 

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