Support Grows for 2nd Vote as Britain Stumbles Over Brexit

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Brexit 2018 new vote

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Stephanie Holtom voted to leave the European Union, worried about immigration and convinced that other countries were telling the British government what to do.

But outside a supermarket recently in a large, suburban strip mall not far from the Welsh city of Swansea, Ms. Holtom conceded she might have been wrong.

“I agreed to come out of Europe, but I am beginning to have second thoughts. I think it’s a mess, and I’m sick to death of it,” said Ms. Holtom, who is retired, as she collected her shopping cart. She added that, if there were a second referendum, “people would vote to stay.”

Since a majority of Britons voted narrowly to leave the bloc more than 18 months ago, most politicians have treated a withdrawal, known as Brexit, as inviolable. Even amid signs of a slowing economy, few saw signs of a shift in public opinion.

Until now.

London may be almost 200 miles away, but people here in Wales have noticed that Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to negotiate Britain’s departure from the bloc, and to control her bitterly divided cabinet. “I think Theresa May is absolutely hopeless,” Ms. Holtom said.

As the political stalemate drags on, and with business leaders issuing ever more urgent alarms about the threats to the economy, growing public doubts are beginning to register in some opinion polls. And opponents of Brexit are quietly cultivating what they see as that rising sentiment in their campaign to soften, if not reverse, the whole process.

They even picked up support from an unexpected quarter when Nigel Farage, the former U.K. Independence Party leader and the leading proponent of Brexit, recently suggested that there might be a second referendum.

Prominent “leavers,” as supporters of Brexit are known, dismiss that possibility out of hand, but it may not be as far-fetched as they would have people believe.

Some time later this year Parliament is likely to face a fateful vote on the actual terms of any agreement Mrs. May can reach with the European Union on Britain’s withdrawal. A defeat in Parliament would prompt a political crisis, very likely topple Mrs. May and possibly prompt a general election. Potentially, that could open the way to a rethink, to new Brexit options, or to a second referendum.

That is what people like the local Swansea lawmaker, Geraint Davies, from the opposition Labour Party, are banking on. He believes the tide is turning against Brexit in Wales, where a majority opted to quit, although Wales is a big recipient of European development aid, and has several industries that might lose from Brexit.

“What I am sensing is that people who voted Brexit in good faith are now saying, ‘Hold on, that’s not what I voted for, and I want a final say,’” Mr. Davies said, listing promises made during the 2016 referendum, including one — later ruled misleading by the country’s statistics authority — that quitting would free up 350 million pounds a week, or about $486 million, for health spending.

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