Donald Trump Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May shakes hands with US President Donald Trump at the White HouseChristopher Furlong/Getty Images

'Brexit means Brexit'; 'It is what it is'; 'The public has spoken'.

With this chorus of clichés in the air it is easy to forget that the referendum to leave the European Union was narrowly won last June by 51.89% to 48.11% of the vote. We are a country of 64.1 million people; yet it is increasingly assumed that we must listen only to the views of the 17,410, 742 people who voted Leave.

What's really interesting, of course, is what that 17,410, 742 is assumed to want. Brexit means Brexit, but typically this seems to mean whatever the Brexiteer in question has decided it means.

Take the debate over Britain's membership of the single market. There were a number of different arguments made by the Leave campaign in the lead up to the referendum as to why Britain should leave the European Union. Yet despite the retrospective amnesia which seems to have set in among Brexiteers, much was made (watch this video if you don't believe me) of how Britain could become another Norway (member of the single market) or Switzerland (single market access on the condition that it accepts the free movement of people) if it left the EU. At the very least, only the most disingenuous Brexiteer could say with confidence that leaving the European Union was synonymous with leaving the Single Market.

And so while the public may have spoken, the public has not spoken in a single, unified voice. Despite many high profile Leave campaigners appearing not to believe a word that even comes out of their own mouths nowadays, I suspect that some people did at least take them at their word when they claimed prior to June's vote that Britain could pursue the Norwegian or Swiss route to prosperity.

Only the most disingenuous Brexiteer could say with confidence that leaving the European Union was synonymous with leaving the Single Market.

In other words, a slim majority of voters opted to leave the EU last year, but no one has yet asked them what price they are willing to pay for leaving. This is why the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is right to suggest that the public should be allowed another vote on the terms of our leaving the European Union before Theresa May strikes any final deal.

I can, of course, already hear the objections. 'Ah but why do you hate democracy?' Democracy has come back into fashion among the British right, now that things appear to be going their way. They may have cheered on Margaret Thatcher as she unleashed an out-of-control police force on striking miners in the 1980s, but today's Conservatives pose as the great friends of the 'ordinary working man and woman'.

Democracy has come back into fashion among the British right, now that things appear to be going their way.

Nothing is too good for the working class, they write in opinion pieces which damn 'liberal elites' and others who are said to look down on the 'Brexit blob'. Nothing, that is, except a further say on what leaving the European Union should look like. Democracy has come to mean one vote granting carte blanche to the winning side to do whatever it is they already wanted to do but kept to themselves.

Before giving the go-ahead to any 'hard Brexit', MPs should remember that Britain is a representative democracy. The public elect MPs who, to paraphrase Edmund Burke's famous address to the Electors of Bristol, are thought to "betray rather than serve" voters if they sacrifice "their judgement to our opinions".

MPs might also register that Brexiteers are perfectly happy to accept Burke's advice when it suits them. Indeed, the victors in last June's advisory plebiscite have taken to retrospectively hiding behind a Burkean interpretation of democracy whilst trashing it when it is no longer useful. Those who backed Brexit may champion 'direct democracy' and the so-called 'will of the people', but they have no plans to sacrifice their judgement to our mere opinions on membership of the Single Market.

It is not sheer bloody-mindedness that explains Theresa May's obsequious attempt to ingratiate herself with the new American President. It is desperation induced by the impending loss of Britain's access to the Single Market.

But the most convincing argument in favour of the public having a vote on the form that Brexit ultimately takes is the election of Donald Trump. An orange-faced narcissist now sits in the White House and intends to put 'America first'. The great hope of those who claimed that sticking two fingers up at Europe would set us free is a protectionist who plans to slap tariffs on imports. To apply a useful metaphor: if you had accepted a marriage proposal only to discover six months later that your prospective spouse was a liar and a cheat, you would want reassess things. The British public should be given that option too.

Those protesting vociferously this week against the new US President's forthcoming state visit to Britain should be applauded. But they might be better off campaigning for a second referendum on Britain's Brexit deal. It is not sheer bloody-mindedness that explains Theresa May's obsequious attempt to ingratiate herself with the new American President. It is desperation induced by the impending loss of Britain's access to the Single Market. We can expect more hand-holding, more embarrassing press conferences and more awkward silence as Trump enacts his hideous agenda. Our moral standing in the world has been sacrificed to squeezing a trade deal from an unstable President.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is often quoted as saying: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Since the EU referendum last June 'the facts' have altered dramatically. Brexit means Brexit, which now means Trump.


James Bloodworth is former editor of Left Foot Forward, one of the UK's top political blogs, and the author of The Myth of Meritocracy. Follow @J_Bloodworth