So Nigel Farage has told Channel Five’s Matthew Wright that he is: “coming round to the idea of a second referendum.” Farage is a wily goat and he could simply be trying to whip up controversy to reignite his flagging media circus and grab the headlines. On the other hand, if he means it, we are obliged to draw one of two conclusions – either he genuinely thinks that a second referendum would be easily won and that the Remain cause would thus be put to bed for good – or – he’s doing what he always does – thinking about himself and gambling that either way he will win.
In the year and a half since the EU referendum the polls on Leave and Remain have barely budged but what has remained consistent since August 2017 (according to YouGov data) is a belief that the government are handling the negotiations badly with 57% of voters currently believing that things are not going well. May’s government remains unpopular and given that many treated the last EU referendum as a judgment on David Cameron, this would not bode well for the Brexiteers in a binary choice on whether to leave on the terms of the final deal – or remain.
Any second vote would be a high risk strategy and given that his side has ‘won’ a better stratagem might be for Farage to shut up and let us Remoaners shout at the darkness – so why isn’t he doing that?
Simple. Nigel would have nothing to lose from a second referendum. He is essentially a European politician. His career, his alliances and his standing all rest on the very beast that he has spent twenty years claiming he wants to slay. He has done very well out of it indeed. Estimates put his salary at a whopping £241,138 making him one of the best paid politicians in Britain – if not the whole of Europe. Now of course that salary is not made up entirely of his EU pay but crucially his media career is dependent upon his reputation as the figurehead of Brexit. Farage clearly believed that a Trump Whitehouse would lead to a glittering US media career but that has not materialised and after initial, if rather reticent, overtures from Trump the former UKIP leader seems to have been dropped like a hot kipper. The post Brexit future must loom empty and large.
A second referendum thus appeals. If he ‘loses’ he can go back to the old routine and keep that nice MEP package – if he ‘wins’ he can inject new life into his media profile and have another pop at the American gig.
In essence, Farage needs the EU every bit as much as George needed the dragon, as Tom needed Jerry or Syd Little his Eddie Large.
Remainers meanwhile should take succour from this. The battle-ground has shifted considerably since June 2016. The British public are far more aware of the consequences of leaving the EU than previously and the Brexiteer irregulars have depleted and dispersed. This time we would not be so complacent and this time – I believe – we would win.
According to Herodutus, the Persians made all complex decisions twice. At first they would get drunk out of their minds and vote and then – a few days later – when everyone had recovered sufficiently they would do it again sober. In June 2016 Britain held an insane and drunken referendum – let’s take Farage’s lead and do it again – clearheaded.