As the clock ticks down to Britain’s departure from the European Union, those who wish to remain in the bloc are increasing their calls to delay or re-do the implementation of the 2016 referendum -- and Brexit supporters are smelling betrayal in the air.
After Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was voted down in a historic defeat last week, Britain is now scheduled to leave without an agreement with the E.U. on March 29.
The prospect of a no-deal Brexit has been predicted as a disaster by “Remain” politicians, liberal media prognosticators and even many in May’s government, with warnings of food and drug shortages, blocked ports and other chaos for Brits. On Tuesday, Sky News reported that the Border Force, the government agency that controls operations at air, sea and rail ports, warned of “significant outbound queues” and a “degradation of border security.”
Consequently, with “no-deal” in sight, many pro-E.U. voices are pushing for either a delay of the implementation of Article 50 -- the mechanism by which the U.K. will leave the bloc -- or a second referendum.
"If we leave in chaos and without a deal, that seems to me to be the worst of all outcomes," Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major said in a radio interview last week, arguing that a delay could be the best outcome.
Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch pro-European, told The Times of London in an interview that he wants a second referendum.
“We are divided already, but we focus all our attention on the alienation of people who voted Leave. What about the alienation of large numbers of people if we leave...with a botched Brexit?” he said.
“Are you going to riot on the street because somebody asks you what you think?" he said, dismissing the idea of anger from voters if a second referendum was called. "Is it really an outrage to go back to people after 30 months of total mess -- the government divided, Parliament blocked, the prime minister subject to a no-confidence motion from her own team?”
In Parliament, politicians from both sides of the political divide have been putting amendments forward in the House of Commons that would delay Brexit in the absence of a deal.
Those who backed Brexit, meanwhile, are arguing that this is a part of the plan by the British political establishment, who have hated Brexit and have looked for every opportunity to nix it since Day One.
“With May’s deal dead, law and logic says we go for ‘no deal,’ but former prime ministers, big business and politicians are moving heaven and earth to stop ‘no deal’ and into that comes extension [of Article 50],” former U.K. Independence Party leader and Fox News contributor Nigel Farage told Fox News in an interview.
Daniel Hannan, a fellow Brexit mastermind and former Tory MEP, said in a column for The Washington Examiner that “our rulers never seriously considered obeying” the 2016 referendum.
“The only question in MPs’ minds was whether to overturn Brexit formally or whether to implement something that could technically be labeled “Brexit” but that would, in reality, leave the U.K. wholly subordinate to Brussels,” he wrote.
Brexiteers have also made their own predictions of chaos should Westminster choose to delay or attempt a do-over of the referendum. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a speech on Friday that stopping Brexit would "reinforce people’s view that there’s some kind of plot going on at Westminster to stop this thing”.
"It would be shameful at this late stage to change that totemic date, March 29, the one fact to which the public has been able to cling with absolute certainty in this sea of political confusion," he said.
May addressed Parliament on Monday, rejected calls to delay Article 50's implementation and announced efforts for a new attempt at the withdrawal agreement. But unless certain key features -- such as Britain remaining in a customs union potentially indefinitely -- are removed, the bill seems unlikely to gain enough votes to pass.
The remaining options would therefore be a no-deal Brexit, or a delay and a possible second referendum -- known by its supporters as a “people’s vote.” But the people seem underwhelmed by such an option, according to some polls. The Guardian reported that an ICM poll found that the most popular option, backed by 28 percent of voters, was a no-deal Brexit. A second referendum picked up only 24 percent of voters’ support.
From within the government, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox declared that a failure to leave the union “would produce a yawning gap between Parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences.”
“It is time for MPs to deliver on the promises they made. It is a matter of honor and a matter of duty,” he said in an Op-Ed for The U.K. Daily Telegraph.
But while the anger at an overturning or a delay of the referendum is real for Brexiteers, many have also expressed little surprise at the development -- noting that a number of votes across Europe that have not gone a pro-E.U. way have either been ignored or re-done.
“It’s a long, dishonest tradition. They made the Danes vote again, they made the Irish vote twice, and the French and the Dutch they just ignored,” Farage told Fox News.
“Europe does not take no for an answer,” he said.