Ian Swanson: Do voters care enough to deliver blow to Brexit?

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TONY Blair believes it can still be stopped, Sir Vince Cable says it may never happen and 60 high-profile Scots, including academics, politicians, business figures and writers, have signed an open letter demanding a rethink.

Brexit is dominating UK and Scottish politics – and with good reason. Removing the UK from an alliance which has reached into almost every aspect of life over more than four decades is not only hugely controversial but also technically complicated and will be endlessly time-consuming, with potentially devastating consequences.

The number of overseas students coming to study here is already falling. Large financial companies, including HSBC, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, are warning they will have to move thousands of jobs out of the UK. Airlines say holiday flights could be grounded if there is no agreement on aviation. Pharmaceutical companies fear supplies of life-saving medicines could be disrupted, while cancer treatment could be affected by withdrawal from Europe’s civil nuclear regulator Euratom.

Tony Blair claims says the economic damage Brexit will do makes it “absolutely necessary” that it does not happen. And he suggests the UK could negotiate staying within a Europe which is prepared to reform and “meet us halfway”.

He acknowledges there is no groundswell of support for another EU referendum, but claims public opinion is changing.

Sir Vince Cable believes the clearer the consequences become, the more people will regret the Leave vote. He says: “Our policy of having a second referendum is designed to give a way out when it becomes clear that Brexit is potentially disastrous.”

The open letter echoes the warning about “disastrous consequences” and calls for “a UK-wide debate about calling a halt to the process and changing our minds”.

So where does public opinion now stand, a year on from the referendum?

Theresa May called the general election, asking for a strengthened mandate for the Brexit negotiations and was refused it.

But why did the Lib Dems not do better, given they were the ones with the unequivocal message about trying to stay in the EU, a stance which 48 per cent of the electorate had supported less than year earlier?

And why did the referendum with its dramatically different results in Scoltand and England not result in the surge in favour of independence which the SNP expected?

The answers could be that the vast majority of Remain voters have just accepted that their side lost, the decision has been made, and there’s no point trying to go against that.

It has also been argued that although a clear majority in Scotland and a big chunk of the electorate across the UK voted Remain, they did not in the end feel all that strongly about it.

A poll this week showed UK voters split 50-50 between Remain and Leave. But if Tony Blair, Vince Cable and the open letter signatories are right, the backlash against Brexit is yet to come.

Could there yet be a clamour for a second referendum? It’s not difficult to imagine what the Leave camp would say if another vote was called – and the discontent it would lead to.

Whatever happens, Brexit looks likely to guarantee trouble ahead for years to come.