Irrespective of his views on a second vote now, Farage’s return to the Brexit debate may buoy those determined to keep haggling over the terms. “He himself says the path the government is currently pursuing on Brexit is not one that satisfies his view of what Brexit should be,” Barney Scholes, the press officer for the People’s Vote, a campaign advocating for a second referendum on the final Brexit deal, told me. “That just reinforces the point we’ve been making that there is no clear vision for Brexit, that there is no mandate for a bad Brexit deal or a no-deal Brexit, and that therefore we need a people’s vote.”
Another Brexit referendum?
But even if this period does mark the second iteration of the Brexit debate, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming desire among Britons to undergo more campaigning—let alone another vote. According to a recent survey by the London-based pollster Deltapoll, 31 percent of those polled say there should be a second referendum on whether the U.K. leaves the EU; 15 percent think there should be a second referendum, but only on the terms of the final negotiated agreement. Forty percent say the U.K. should leave the EU in March as planned without a vote, whether or not there is a deal.
“My impression of public opinion is that most people would like this all to be gone—to not to have to think about it anymore, to not have any more boring news articles and TV programs and people banging on about it all the time,” Simon Usherwood, the deputy director of U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London-based research institute, told me. He noted that even without Brexit fatigue, there may be limits to the extent figures like Farage can sway public opinion a second time around. “In terms of how to focus people’s attention, to say, ‘This is a thing and it’s going to be going on for some months and we’re not really sure when it ends’ is a much harder sell than saying, ‘There’s a vote on this date, get out the vote, vote this way.’”
Kassam agrees that there is a sense of Brexit fatigue, but says it has nothing to do with people’s desire to leave the EU. “It’s not with Brexit as an idea—it’s with Brexit as a process,” he said. “That’s what we need to fight back against and get our heads around—how we message it back to being a rebellious phase rather than a process.”
This process is perhaps what prompted the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to proclaim that the Brexit “dream is dying” in his resignation letter. What’s unclear, however, is what Leave Means Leave can do to save it. While the campaign defines itself as supporting a hard Brexit, there is little expectation Farage or anyone else is prepared to put forward more than slogans to counter the government’s plan—particularly the parts that address some of the more technical issues of the negotiations, like how to maintain an open Irish border.
“All of this is really about trying to apply pressure in that final phase of negotiations to get more of the kinds of things that Leave Means Leave wants out of the negotiations,” Usherwood said. To do that, however, he said its efforts may be better focused elsewhere. “Public opinion matters, but at the moment what matters more is what is happening in Parliament—and nothing is happening in Parliament at the moment.”