Calls for a second Brexit referendum have grown louder in recent weeks. Last month, the prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage argued that the country should have a second vote on EU membership to prove that support for Brexit is growing. A poll published weeks later by the Guardian revealed that 47 percent of Britons also support having a another vote (though, as I reported at the time, those expressing interest in another referendum could be interpreting what that means differently, depending on which Brexit outcome they favor). Then this month, the billionaire philanthropist George Soros made a high-profile half-million pound donation to pro-Remain group Best for Britain, which advocates lobbying British lawmakers to vote against whatever deal U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Brussels negotiate. The ultimate aim is to force a second referendum.
The momentum continued last week with the start of the bus tour, as well as the separate launch of a “Listen to Britain” campaign by Renew, a new political party that also aims to stop the U.K. from exiting the EU. The party takes its inspiration from French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement, which last year fielded hundreds of political newcomers as candidates in the country’s parliamentary elections. The Renew party similarly aims to build a political consensus in parliament to oppose Brexit, both by appealing to likeminded lawmakers and fielding candidates of their own.
“We want to deliver social change, we want to drive prosperity for everybody and create opportunity, but we can only do so from a position of strength within the European Union,” Sandra Khadhouri, one of Renew’s three principal leaders, told me. She noted that while the party hopes to appeal to Britons on both sides of the Brexit debate, its ultimate goal is clear. “We don’t want a soft Brexit, we don’t want any other kind of Brexit. … We think it’s bad for Britain in every sector and for everybody, and it will hurt even the people who voted for it.”
The British government’s leaked Brexit assessment predicts the country could experience as much as an 8-percent drop in GDP nationwide if it leaves the EU’s single market and customs union without a trade deal, in a scenario known as a “hard Brexit.” For regions of the U.K. like the North East and the Midlands, which backed Brexit by overwhelming margins, the impact could be twice as bad. But this hasn’t necessarily changed people’s minds on Brexit. If anything, it’s the opposite. “The polling strongly suggests that it’s still quite close between people who think it’s a good idea and a bad idea,” Anand Menon, the director of U.K. in a Changing Europe, told me, noting that while the number of Britons for and against Brexit remain very close, “few people swap sides in that debate.”
So what makes groups like Renew think they could make a difference? Khadhouri says that without any viable opposition to Brexit in parliament, voters are seeking new leaders to speak up. “A lot of people don’t know who to vote for anymore,” she said. “Conservatives have led us to this mess and are completely and hopelessly divided. The Labour party are on the fence, hedging their bets … What kind of choices are those? Not good choices, and that’s what people are telling us.”