The biggest boost to the Remain cause in 2018 has come from Nigel Farage. Although a furious backlash from his usual supporters and from UKIP has made the MEP row back slightly from the suggestion of a second Brexit referendum, an idea can't easily be unhad. A week after Nigel's attention-seeking proposal, pro-EU newspapers are still enthusing about it, while Remain politicians, who until recently were going through the motions of pretending to accept the verdict, now feel authorised openly to demand a rerun. Reports suggest that even our foreign secretary is starting to see a new vote as a strong possibility.
I'm sorry to inject a dose of cold, hard reality, but there will be no second referendum. There really won't. Think of all the steps that you'd need to go through in order to hold one. First, you'd need to persuade two thirds of MPs to vote for an early dissolution – which would mean simultaneously convincing majorities in both big parties that a snap election was in their interest. Then one of the two main parties would need to fight that election promising a new referendum, something neither leader is contemplating. Indeed. Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, has just ruled out remaining in the EU's customs union on the impeccable grounds that Euro-protectionism hurts poor countries.
Then, in this fantasy accumulator bet, the party proposing a new referendum would need to win a parliamentary majority. Remember that, last year, all the parties standing on this basis – the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens – lost ground, while the parties promising to uphold the result won 85 per cent of the vote. Then that party would need push through the requisite legislation, and then win the referendum. Note that there has been no discernible shift in public opinion; indeedthe most recent poll showed a ten-point Leave lead. The conspicuous non-appearance of promised post-referendum recession has badly damaged Remain's credibility. And, in any case, people who are asked the same question again tend to repeat themselves with added emphasis.
This putative party that had reversed its position, triggered an early general election, won it, pushed through the second referendum legislation and then won that referendum would then need to convince the other EU 27 to keep Britain in on existing terms – that is, without having to surrender its rebate, join the euro or sign up to the EU army. And all this would need to happen before March of next year. Does any of these things – let alone all of them – seem plausible?
If there won't actually be a second vote, what is the effect of all this speculation? For Nigel Farage and his sidekick Arron Banks, the aim is clear enough: to get themselves back in the news. During the referendum campaign, Nigel repeatedly attacked me for – ironically, as it now turns out – wanting a second referendum (which I didn't). He even used this non-existent opinion of mine as his reason not to share a platform – though he was happy to share one with George Galloway.
I took the view that I should save my criticism for the EU, so I didn't retaliate. Arron Banks, who spent almost the entire referendum seeking to undermine the official campaign, tried to justify his antics on the same grounds – claiming that Vote Leave weren't "real" Eurosceptics because they secretly wanted a second vote. The very thing, in other words, that he and Nigel, alone among Eurosceptics, are now proposing. Well, as a publicity stunt – like so much of what they did in the campaign – it has worked at the expense of the wider Brexit cause.
But what about the Remainers? What do Chuka Umunna and Nick Clegg and Michael Heseltine and the rest hope to achieve by vainly demanding a second poll? Are they just letting off steam? Is it some kind of Remainier-than-thou virtue signalling? Or have they convinced themselves, like tiny children, that you can make something happen by wishing hard enough?
Whatever their motive, the sole effect of their posturing is to encourage hardliners in Brussels to toughen their position in the hope that Britain will give up. At this stage, pro-EU commentators often say, "Blaming others for the failure of YOUR Brexit, eh, Hannan?" Nope. Brexit won't be a failure. In the long term, almost all its possible variants are better than having stayed in the EU. It's simply that the immediate exit terms will be better or worse depending on how the negotiations go.
People are of course entitled to have different views about how to conduct those negotiations. Buta lot of Continuity Remain's behaviour looks like sheer petulance. For example, voting not to move onto trade talks – as Labour and Lib Dem MEPs, along with two Tories, did last year – is not an alternative strategy; it is a wrecking tactic. The same goes backing the EU's early demand for €100 billion –a deliberately outrageous opening bid, that was always going to be watered down. I'd argue that the same is true of wanting to say in the customs union – a rotten deal, that none of the EFTA countries has ever asked for.
To the extent that there is any strategy behind such moves, it seems to turn on the idea that, if the eventual terms are bad enough, Britain will somehow drop the whole idea of Brexit. The danger is that Continuity Remainers get the first half of what they want. There is no prospect of the second.