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Economics

Can Britain Hit the Reset Button on Brexit?

Even Theresa May’s government isn’t sure leaving the EU is a good idea.
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Photographs: Caroline Tompkins for Bloomberg Businessweek

Nineteen months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May still has to assure people that Brexit is really happening. On Jan. 16, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz asked May directly if Brexit was still on. Then German newspaper Bild asked the same question. “Wir verlassen die EU,” May insisted. “We’re leaving the EU.”

Brexit is the central, all-consuming policy of May’s administration. It has its own government department. She’s won all the big Brexit votes in Parliament, although not without the occasional struggle. Still, the feeling, and in some corners the hope, is taking hold that Britain might take it all back in a second referendum. While there are many obstacles to a do-over, it can’t be ruled out as the difficulties and costs of Brexit become clearer. Paradoxically, the idea has garnered interest from people on both sides of the debate, as was shown on Jan. 11, when one of the chief campaigners for Brexit, Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, said he could see the case for a second vote.