This piece by Martin Kettle pretty accurately describes my dilemma over Brexit up until now: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/25/no-soft-brexit-no-deal-revoke-vote.
Like him, I guess, I’m a strong albeit Eurosceptical Remainer, but aware that the referendum result made that position a difficult one to sustain. That’s not because of any ‘respect’ I might have for the 2016 ‘people’s vote’, which was dishonestly and even criminally achieved, and in any case probably doesn’t reflect opinion today, three years on; but in fear of the so-called ‘popular’ – and probably violent – reaction in the country if it were not honoured. On a personal level this could be regarded as ‘cowardly’, though I’m not at all afraid for myself, especially now that I have my Swedish bolt-hole to run to; or for my children, who could claim Irish citizenship through their mother. My main motivation was my worry that being denied the fruits of their victory would push the Brexiteers further to the political Right, and inflame their loutish followers to serious rebellion in a reactionary cause. The current language of the Brexiteers, and of their press cheerleaders, together with the alarming revival of what is called ‘populism’ on both sides of the Atlantic, make it clear that this is a genuine possibility; especially for a historian like me who knows his 1930s.
Martin Kettle however suggests that there may be a glimmer of light. Up to now those of us facing this same dilemma have generally been willing, reluctantly, to compromise on the basis of what is called a ‘soft’ Brexit: that is, formal withdrawal from the EU whilst at the same time remaining within its single market; which would require the UK to abide by its rules (including freedom of movement) but without our sharing any control over them. This of course would not be perfect, but would be better than the ‘hard’ Brexit (I call it ‘Viagra Brexit’) that the more extreme Conservatives are pushing for – under the unproven assumption that this was what ‘the people’ voted for in 2016. This was Corbyn’s deep-laid plan, and I thought at the time a clever strategy (https://bernardjporter.com/2018/12/30/corbyns-way/). It would have preserved many of the economic advantages of EU membership, whilst at the same time pacifying all but the ‘hardest’ Brexiteers. With the option that Corbyn later tacked on to it of a second referendum on the terms of our withdrawal, it also revived the faint possibility of a return to the EU. That has been my reason for supporting the official Labour Party line throughout the last two and a half years’ negotiations, despite the criticism that has been hurled at it from both sides.
The new factor just now, however, is that this approach appears to be coming to an impasse. Discussions between May and Corbyn (and their advisers) are clearly foundering on May’s refusal – in order to keep her party’s hardliners on board – to compromise on the ‘single market’ issue. That seems to be ruling a ‘soft’ (or ‘limp’?) Brexit’ out. Which means that we’re left with only three options: ‘hard’, which Parliament has already rejected; May’s deal, which it has also rejected (not hard enough for the zealots); or a new ‘people’s vote’ on whatever ‘softer’ plan can be cobbled together, with the alternative on the ballot paper being to ‘Remain’.
The Brexiteers don’t want a second referendum, on the curious grounds that it – unlike the first one – would be ‘undemocratic’. (‘You lost – get used to it.’) But just now it seems to be becoming more and more likely, partly because of Parliament’s failure to produce a viable alternative, which makes it the only way out. Surely even the ‘get used to it’ mob could be persuaded of that. ‘Parliament can’t decide; put it back to the people.’ In which case the danger of all those Brexiteers rushing at us with their pitchforks might recede, and we could live in whatever peace and contentment this or any government has in store for us, after the sounds of battle have receded. (Which might, I fear, take a long time.)