IN the opera The Mikado, WS Gilbert inserted a quartet who sing to the effect that “Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot”. Given the excellent advice calmly offered by EU President Donald Tusk, it is perhaps time for the UK to take advantage of the parliamentary recess to follow Gilbert’s suggestion and take stock of its position, with a view to finding a way out. To do so, it is best to start with a quick look at the history of Brexit.

It seems to have been forgotten that the Act creating the 2016 referendum set in motion only a consultation. There was no need for the government to have followed the vote and, in the discussions in November 2016 on the triggering of Article 50, judges in the High Court ruled that the referendum was only advisory. Therefore, any suggestion that the result had to or has to be followed is nonsense. The ballot paper carried only two simple questions. There was no need to rush to trigger Article 50 or otherwise to set any date for the UK’s departure. No one voted for that to take place on March 29 or, come to that, April 12. No-one voted for any particular form of departure.

The result was that 17,410,742 electors (51.89%) voted to leave the EU and 16,141,241 (48.11%) voted to remain. As the electoral roll was 44,500,001, this gave a turnout of 72.2%. In round figures, just under 37% of the electorate voted to leave. Such a figure does not and cannot represent the concept of “The People”, so beloved by Mrs May et al. Participation in the referendum was not extended to EU nationals living in the UK or to young people aged 16 to 18.

Those who voted to leave did so for a great variety of reasons. A fear of migrants was by 2010 one of these, and David Cameron responded by promising to limit immigration to the tens of thousands. In the years that followed, sections of the press fanned the flames with headlines such as “Migrants rob young Britons of jobs”. There were those who were taken in by propaganda. That propaganda was not only the risible “£3 million per week for the NHS” type but was also put forward in what appeared to be a more thoughtful way, as by Michael Gove, who on April 19 2016 suggested that the UK would leave the single market but would somehow still have access to it.

There were voters who, with some reason, distrusted the fiscal policies of the EU. Others thought it politically undemocratic but would have been happy to remain in a common market, as in 1975. There were those who had no real idea of European politics and confessed to making up their minds when in the polling booth. The idea – peddled by so many – of a solid block of single-minded Leavers, whose vote must be respected indefinitely, is not borne out by any serious consideration. In the run-up to the referendum the UK voters were certainly not given adequate information by either side and, as the recent decision in Switzerland has shown, incomplete information is considered by its judges to be adequate grounds for reversing a previous decision.

That was the position in July 2016. How many have since changed their minds as a result of almost three years of chaos, bribery and a query over the expenses of one of the referendum campaigns is anybody’s guess. Some voters of 2016 will have since left the UK and others who were then living abroad will have returned. No-one knows their opinion. All that can be said with certainly is that in these three years about 1.6 million young people of 18+ will now have their names on the electoral register. If they follow the trend seen in 2016, about 73% (about 1.1 million) would now vote to remain. That alone would be enough to change the verdict of 2016.

All these considerations should be the basis from which we now start to reconsider our position, in the interests of the population in all parts of the UK and in the interests of our neighbours in Ireland. Some kind of public consultation would appear to be essential. We are in a hole, we have almost stopped digging – but we still have to get out of that hole. Simply harping on that “The People” voted to leave in 2016 will not do that and will only create further division. Blackmailing unwilling MPs into voting for a deal that has been thrice rejected, in the interests of their “national duty”, does not suggest “quiet, calm deliberation” and will certainly not “disentangle every knot”.

Surprisingly, in view of all the trouble and expense to which we have put the EU, its patient leaders have nonetheless given us a breathing space. Let’s follow Mr Tusk’s advice and use it to best advantage.

Brian Patton
Foulden, Berwickshire