On June 23 of last year, 54-year old Sandra Pengelley walked into her local polling office in the Tory constituency of Mid Bedfordshire to cast her vote on the Brexit referendum.* Partly on the basis of how a well-known radio host described the European Union, Pengelly decided she’d had enough of its “dictatorship,” and voted Leave.
“But then I started to have a sinking feeling,” she said. When, exactly? “When the results came out. The next day.” Two weeks later, Nigel Farage (the radio show host in question) resigned from his position as the head of the UK Independence Party, the pro-Brexit pop-up party; the full weight of her mistake hit her. “It turned my stomach,” she said. “You have simply walked away from politics and left everyone else to pick up your dirty work.”
Over the past 15 months, Britain has made negligible progress in negotiations over its departure from the EU. On September 22, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a keynote speech in Florence in which she called vaguely for a transition period of “about” two years (a post-Brexit negotiating platform which EU negotiators had already ruled out as an option). This week’s disastrous Conservative party conference has done nothing to calm the uncertainty clouding Brexit. In fact, it has only intensified the anxiety for Pengelly, a lifelong Tory who quit the party last autumn. The decision of whether or not to stay in the EU should never have been left to what Pengelly viewed as a well-meaning but politically uneducated, naive public, she said—a public largely ignorant of, say, the existence of the 759 treaties that Britain will now have to renegotiate with 168 countries (including the EU’s 27 member states). The rousing one-word clarion call of the Leave campaign, she said, glossed over those complexities. Now, “I would go out and speak, knock at doors in search of a second referendum,” she said.