OPINION: Brexit Shouldn’t Have To Be A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Process

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Gerry Gunster Contributor
Font Size:

The way forward for Brexit has turned into a maze of possible outcomes, the likes of which no “choose-your-own-adventure” book has ever imagined.  

One thing is clear: It should never have gotten to this point in the first place. There was a winner. And yet, the debate about a second referendum isn’t going away.

With 30 years of navigating domestic and global referendums, I am convinced this is one of the most unique referendum circumstances in modern political history. There are only a handful of historical precedents – Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and a few in the United States — where the same or similar question was voted on twice. Although some pundits are claiming that such a phenomenon (“try-try-again”) is commonplace and voters often reverse the original vote, it just isn’t true.

With no ideal referendum solution and a “pick the best of bad options” scenario embroiling leaders in the U.K., what is the optimal path forward? There is no easy answer — but discussion about a second referendum should end.

Let’s first look at the 2016 Brexit language. The 2016 “Leave/Remain” referendum language was precise, concise and binary. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Sixteen words, plus a question mark.  

If nothing else, it is a testament to the clarity of the 2016 question. Voters generally understood what they were voting for — and still voted to upend the status quo.  

Now let’s look at the options for a possible second referendum:

Yesterday, Scotland’s MP Drew Hendry (SNP) — despite UK lawmakers voting against holding a second Brexit referendum — continued to argue that only the people can break the log jam.

Mr. Hendry would like to see a vote to “Remain” or accept the Government’s deal — but calls for a second referendum were soundly rejected by Parliament. And “Leave” voters have already suggested that they would stage an election-day boycott; if Mr. Hendry aspires to break the log jam, they are about to build an impenetrable dam instead.

Another option that keeps surfacing — re-vote on “Leave” or “Remain” — is a far bigger problem because it transcends Brexit. In either outcome, one side (or both) can claim a credible erosion of the original democratic process. Constitutionally unstable governments act this way — not first-world democracies. What happens if Remain wins? Does it become like a schoolyard game of rock-paper-scissors, where the best-out-of-three wins?

Let’s agree: A second referendum would be painful for the British electorate, and there is no appetite for it. It has been almost three years since the vote and, the way things are going, there could be years (and possibly decades) of stalemates and delays. It is a calculated “Remain” strategy to keep kicking the can down the road — a road they hope has no end and outlasts a generation.  

It doesn’t need to be a mind-bending, choose-your-own-adventure referendum process. The nation will be no closer to a meaningful, sustainable solution. I don’t need polling to know that the British electorate is exhausted, tired, frustrated — they want it all to end.

It may seem unpopular to suggest, but many of my British colleagues and friends — remainers and leavers — now think the best option is to let the World Trade Organization trade rules apply and leave on March 29. It is a rationale backstop — trade under WTO rules. That may help settle global markets until a proper trade agreement between the U.K. and EU is negotiated. Sometimes a lousy divorce needs a third-party arbitrator.

Gerry Gunster (@GdGunster) is the CEO of Gunster Strategies Worldwide, and specializes in managing referendum campaigns in the U.S. and internationally. He has overseen countless referendum campaigns in his career and served as an adviser to Brexit’s Go Movement, KnowEU and Leave.EU. He is a frequent lecturer at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and George Washington University School of Campaign Management.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.