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From Brexit to Breferendum

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by Anatole Kaletsky–LONDON – If something is impossible, it does not happen. If a country votes to make two plus two equal five, this “democratic decision” will eventually be overridden by the rules of arithmetic, no matter how large the majority or how loudly “The People have spoken.” This is the story now playing out in Britain as Theresa May’s government stumbles toward the final act of the Brexit tragi-comedy.
In 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union while keeping “the exact same benefits” they enjoyed as EU members. David Davis, May’s former minister responsible for negotiating Brexit with the EU, used that phrase repeatedly in Parliament, and it was then taken up enthusiastically by May herself. The promises by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the chief Brexit campaigner, were even more fulsome: Britons would have complete freedom to live, work, and study throughout Europe; untrammeled access to the EU single market; and full participation in whatever political institutions a post-Brexit government might feel like cherry-picking from the EU orchard. In short, the 2016 referendum was a vote for two plus two equals five.
The consequences of this self-delusion are now becoming obvious, as Britain’s government finds itself unable to get a parliamentary majority for any realistic Brexit plan. If this situation persists, Britain will have only one alternative: another referendum to reconsider the impossible result of the 2016 vote.
The Times now estimates that there is a 50% probability of such a referendum. When Justine Greening, one of May’s recently sacked cabinet ministers, became the first senior Conservative to propose this option, the objections raised to it were no longer about the principle of a second referendum, but about the difficulty of deciding the right question and method of casting votes.

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