Can Brexit Be Reversed? Possibilities & Risks Explored

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Over the two and a half years since the UK voted in favor of Brexit, those who voted for the UK to remain in the EU have consistently called for a second referendum on the issue. However, this call has been ardently rejected by Theresa May, and indeed other MP’s across the political spectrum as it poses an unprecedented challenge to the democratic process in the UK.

However, some key political figures including ex-prime ministers such as Tony Blair have backed the call for a second referendum. The majority which voted in favor of Brexit was incredibly slim with 17.4 million votes (52%) in favor of leaving the EU and 16.1 million votes (48%) in favor of staying.

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What could the possible route be for such a referendum to take place?

The first step would be May failing to get her Brexit deal approved in parliament. Given the division within her own party, opposition from her power-sharing party the DUP and opposition from Labour, this looks incredibly likely.

In such circumstances, there are two options: one is for the UK to leave the EU without a deal, which could be incredibly harmful to the UK economy, and the second is voting to be returned to the UK electorate with the option of voting to remain in the EU after all.

However, such a vote would take time to put together, and with the UK currently scheduled to leave the EU on March 29th, 2019, the UK would have to ask the EU for more time to allow for a second referendum. Given the high likelihood that this time around, remainers would win, the EU would likely be open to this request.

Article 50 Can Be Reversed

Some fierce Brexiteers have argued that Article 50, which was triggered in March last year, cannot be reversed. However, John Kerr who is responsible for drafting the exit clause has clarified that it is indeed reversible, saying:

“the die is not irrevocably cast; there is still time and, until the UK has left the EU, the Article 50 letter can be withdrawn.”

Indeed, judges at the EU’s highest court are due to hold a hearing on November 27th where they will review whether the UK could indeed unilaterally reverse its decision to exit the EU.

Does A Second Referendum Challenge UK Political Process?

The main obstacle here is that of the ramifications for British politics. Holding a second referendum because the losing side was not happy with the outcome poses serious questions about how sacred the democratic process is, regardless of whether you support Brexit or not. Furthermore, if such a second referendum were held and remainers won this time – the risk of large-scale civil disorder is high especially given that many of the UK’s more extreme and militant far-right groups are in favor of Brexit.

Second Referendum To Be Unique, Not A Repeat

However, those in support of a second referendum argue that this would be an entirely different question put before the UK electorate than was asked in 2016. Jo Johnson who is the younger brother of Boris Johnson has said that the referendum should ask if the UK wants to leave the EU now it knows the details of the deal available to it or, would it rather stay with the current deal inside the EU.

Essentially, the point here is that when the vote was held in 2016, no one knew what a Brexit deal would look like, especially considering the issues around the Irish border situation. Remainers argue that if this question was put to the UK electorate, it would vote to remain in the EU this time.


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