Why a Second `Brexit' Referendum Appeals to Out Voters: Q&A

  • Vote Leave head Cummings sees `another bite of the cherry'
  • London Mayor Boris Johnson says he wants a `better deal'

Campaigning for the June 23 ‘Brexit’ referendum has only just begun, but some people are already talking about a second vote.

Where is this coming from?

When London Mayor Boris Johnson jumped off the fence and declared he’d be supporting the campaign to pull the U.K. out of the European Union, he made a couple of intriguing comments. “I will be advocating Vote Leave,” he said, “because I want a better deal for the people of this country."
He expanded on the point in his column for Monday’s Daily Telegraph. "There is only one way to get the change we need, and that is to vote to go, because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says No,” he wrote. “It is time to seek a new relationship, in which we manage to extricate ourselves from most of the supranational elements.”

So he’s saying the U.K. could vote to leave but then stay?

The idea, which he’s floated before, is that a vote to leave the EU could be presented to Brussels as a mandate to negotiate exit terms, which could then be presented to voters in another referendum. Alternatively, as Johnson hints, such a vote might prompt other EU countries to bend over backwards to keep Britain inside the EU.

Is anyone else backing this idea?

Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave, one of the “Out” campaigns, is a fan.

Because he relishes referendums?

Because the biggest obstacle for the “Leave” campaign is that it’s asking voters to take what Prime Minister David Cameron calls “a great leap into the unknown.” Cummings argues that if all people thought they were being asked to do was authorize talks, they’d be much more likely to vote for it. “Vote ‘Leave,’ and we get another bite of the cherry; no downside,” he said in an interview in January.

This all sounds very odd

It’s an idea with pedigree. One of the ideas that worried Cameron’s team during Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014 was that then-Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond would make an offer like this. It would have neutralized worries such as whether Scotland could keep the pound.

What do others have to say about it?

It worried Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel enough for him to insist that a line was inserted into last week’s EU deal saying that if Britain voted to leave, it would have to leave. “It’s clear there won’t be a second chance,” Michel said. Cameron made the same point in Parliament on Monday, and went on to mock the notion. “Sadly, I’ve known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings,” he said. “I do not know any who’ve begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.”

So that’s that?

Well, the 28-nation EU’s tendency to fudge outcomes means it’s not impossible to imagine some leaders changing their position if they were confronted with a second request to help keep the U.K. in the bloc.

But what if they refused?

This idea is being floated by one of the campaigns to get Britain out of the EU. Faced with intransigence from other EU countries that means the U.K. has to walk away, it’s unlikely they’d be heartbroken.

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