After Tony Blair’s comments on the possibility of blocking Brexit yesterday, Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, is now saying that there is a “credible” case for a second EU referendum. “The tyranny of the majority”, can’t dictate Brexit, he added. 

Both former PMs had already warned about Brexit back in June when they appeared together at Ulster University to speak about the risks of voting to leave the EU.

Their recent comments might be timely, but what they themselves individually represent is something of the past. The people, no matter what their political beliefs are, are suspicious of the old established political classes, and they either want a new radical left or a radical right to represent their demands for change. The rise of far-right movements in the US and in Europe, and the popularity of left politicians among the younger generations, such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, are signs of a desire to find real solutions, energising politics and social movements. Now, some of these voices might be destructive, divisive or unifying, it all depends how organised and appealing their message is, or will be. But what is sure, the time when Major could evoke nostalgia through images of Britain as the country “of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers," is now over. 

John Major’s intervention

On Friday (25 Nov.), The Times reported that, at a private dinner in Westminster, the former Conservative PM told guests that the parliament, and not the government, must have the final say on any deal within the EU. He described the Leave.EU campaign “shameful” and criticised its “flavour of bigotry,” while acknowledging that, "we need to understand and say publicly that most immigration is a boost to our national wellbeing and not a drain on it.”

While he accepts that the UK won’t remain a full member of the EU, he hopes that it will continue to be as close to the EU and the single market as possible. This is because, for him, the EU’s single market is “the richest market mankind has ever seen.”

Major said that “I hear the argument that the 48% of people who voted to stay should have no say in what happens. I find that very difficult to accept. The tyranny of the majority has never applied in a democracy and it should not apply in this particular democracy.”

Major, like Blair, understands the way global capitalism and the free circulation of money, workers, and goods operates. All this sounds very well if you are on the right side of those enjoying the advantages of neoliberal capitalism. But the disenfranchised workers, who have been left out of globalisation, are now finding their voice and can no longer be contained by the establishment’s worn dogmas. Brexit was an expression of this, even if it was a misguided one.

Political Response

Theresa May’s spokesman dismissed the idea of a second referendum, repeating the now over-rehearsed line, “the people of the United Kingdom have given the government a very clear instruction to take us out of the European Union.” But he added that the 48% of remain voters will be heard: “All these opinions will be fully aired and fully debated.”

The spokesman also stressed that Brexit wasn’t based on a tyrannical vote but “It was a full and fair, democratic vote, and the majority voted to bring Britain out of the European Union. It is now the job of the government to deliver on the will that was expressed on that vote.”

But, it’s easy to forget that the referendum to leave the EU isn’t binding. It’s only advisory, and despite Theresa May’s mantra that “the people have spoken,” people can also change their mind. After seeing the economic impact such a move will have on the UK, especially after Hammond’s Autumn Statement, the British people have every right to change their mind. As Tony Blair reminded us yesterday, British voters should be able to reconsider their decision and have a say through their representatives in the parliament. Blair said: “It can be stopped if the British people decide that, having seen what it means, the pain-gain, cost-benefit analysis doesn’t stack up.”

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, responding to Major’s comments, said: 

“The British people voted for departure but they didn’t vote for a destination, and they certainly didn’t vote to make the nation poorer and risk jobs. The haphazard way May’s cabinet are handling Brexit makes the case for a referendum on the deal stronger each day, and we’re glad to have growing cross-party support for this campaign.”

Major and Blair might be right, but it takes something more to put the likes of Farage back in the box. Perhaps a strong coalition between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the SNP will be able to fight far-right sentiment and anti-European propaganda. But blocking Brexit might now be impossible. Even if some of us are having second thoughts now.