Nigel Farage’s apparent conversion in favour of a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership on Thursday (11 January) was manna from heaven gleefully received by British Remainers.
“Bring it on” was the reaction of the Best for Britain campaign, which opposes Brexit.
“For perhaps the first time in his life, Nigel Farage is making a valid point. In a democracy like ours, the British people have every right to keep an open mind about Brexit,” said Labour MP Chuka Umunna.
It might also have come to a surprise to many of Farage’s fellow Brexiteers.
“Not a prayer” was the verdict of a group of four Brexiteers led by former Trade Minister Digby Jones and Steven Woolfe MEP, who had earlier met with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, when asked whether there was a chance of Brexit being reversed.
But the excitement of a potential volte face by the former UKIP leader only lasted a few hours.
“To be clear, I do not want a second referendum, but I fear one may be forced upon the country by parliament,” Farage wrote in an article on the Daily Telegraph website on Friday.
That is not an outlandish prospect.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has already been forced to concede that MPs will get a ‘meaningful’ vote on whether to accept or reject the Article 50 exit terms, which could leave the door open for a second plebiscite.
In truth, the ‘hard Brexit’ faction, which believes that the UK should revert to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms if it is not offered a generous free trade deal by the EU-27, remains in campaign mode.
It is also no secret that the ‘hard Brexit’ faction believes that Theresa May’s government played a poor hand in the first phase of negotiations with Barnier’s team.
They fear that the May government’s fragility is likely to lead to a protracted transition period after the Article 50 process formally ends in March 2019, leaving the UK as a de facto member of the bloc’s single market.
“The British people will not accept a deal that leaves them with all the hassles of EU membership without any benefits,” Jones told a small group of reporters in the European Parliament on Wednesday (10 January).
“A bad deal will not kill Euroscepticism in the UK, but would divide the Labour and Conservative parties,” John Mills, who ran the Labour Leave group, added.
“He (Barnier) wants it to happen,” added John Longworth, Co-Chairman of the Leave Means Leave campaign group.
Nor are Farage’s remarks that different to those of the four Brexiteers.
“What is for certain is that the Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never ever ever give up. They will go on whinging and whining and moaning all the way through this process,” said Farage on Thursday, almost identical language to that used by Jones, Woolfe and Longworth, who repeatedly referred to the “ABC cabal”.
The chances of a repeat referendum remain slim. May has ruled out another poll. Her Brexit minister Steve Baker commented that Farage’s remarks had provided “further confirmation of my long-held view that Nigel Farage is one of the greatest impediments to a successful Brexit”.
That did not stop bookmakers Coral and Betfair cutting their odds on another poll before the end of 2019 to 5-1.
And In the parlance of the bookies, 5-1 is significantly more favourable than just a prayer.