Even if Britons vote to stay in the European Union next month, it looks like the outers will not give up.
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, has told the Daily Mirror he would push for a second referendum if the first one produces only a narrow majority in favor of staying in.
“In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way,” Farage said. Only if the remain side wins by two-thirds “that ends it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron rejected Farage’s suggestion out of hand, saying the United Kingdom does “referendums not neverendums.”
Of course the Euroskeptic did not propose calling another referendum if the one in June ends up with 52 percent in favor of leaving. In that case, a simple majority will surely suffice.
Farage is not the only sore loser in the making.
The Telegraph reports that up to a hundred of Cameron’s own Conservative Party lawmakers would support a vote of no-confidence in him if the referendum doesn’t go the way they want.
Just fifty are needed to trigger a leadership vote.
The Financial Times reports that many of the parliamentarians who were elected on Cameron’s coattails in 2010 and 2015 are less ideological on Europe than some of their older colleagues and have insisted that the party should accept the result, whatever it may be.
But Cameron has a majority of only twelve, allowing small cabals to stir up trouble.
Stab in the back
Their gripe is that the referendum campaign “has not been a fair fight,” a source told The Telegraph, and they will “show Cameron that it will not be forgotten.”
Specifically, they are upset that the government — which on the whole advocates staying in the EU — sent leaflets to 27 million households at a cost of £9 million to make the case for membership.
Nick Cohen argues in The Spectator, a right-wing magazine, that the plots against Cameron have something of a “stab in the back” air to it.
Even if they have a point on the leaflets, “none of them has the sportsmanship to accept Cameron made the huge concession of breaking collective responsibility and allowing ministers to campaign against their own government’s policy,” writes Cohen about the leavers.
Cabinet members who support an exit from the EU include Michael Gove, the justice secretary, and Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former pensions secretary, is also on the “leave” side. He stepped down in March, ostensibly over cuts to disability benefits but it was seen as a jab at Cameron and his deputy, George Osborne, both of whom have shifted the Conservative Party closer to the center of British politics.
The reason they can’t give Cameron credit, according to Cohen, is that the Euroskeptics regard all opposition as illegitimate. “And this is the wider point.”
All those who argue against a British withdrawal from the EU, whether it is the Bank of England, the Confederation of British Industry, the International Monetary Fund, the Trades Union Congress or the president of the United States, must be lying and corrupt.
I made a similar point last month, when I noted that the Euroskeptics were dismissing the opinions of just about everyone who had thought through the consequences of exit.
“Everything that doesn’t go their way,” I wrote, “is proof to the fanatics of Europhile intrigue.”
The reason, Cohen believes, is that they have been living in a bubble: reading the same newspaper columns and anti-EU websites, attending the same meetings. Now suddenly they have to explain their views and prejudices to outsiders and they cannot manage it.
Rather than debate honorably, they have preferred to damn all who opposed or merely questioned them as heretics or infidels led astray by evil motives. Naturally, such people won’t uphold the rather fine British virtue of shaking hands when the match is over and taking the result in good grace. Instead, they will claim to act on behalf of the British people while refusing to accept the will of the British people.
That is the problem with fanatics: they never give up.