Dhaka, Bangladesh
Another referendum would be a nightmare

Another referendum would be a nightmare

Project hysteria' splashed the Brexit press front pages, Express, Telegraph and Sun treating the figures with predictable scorn.' Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. Photograph: Reuters Who's afraid of a governor of the Bank of England? Who needs experts - especially economists? Even the Office for Budget Responsibility head admits their forecasts are like landing a jumbo jet on the proverbial postage stamp. Brexiters - and that maverick little cadre of leftist Lexiteers - had plenty of ammunition as they rubbished Wednesday's estimates from the government and the bank, warning of the dire effect of every brand of Brexit. "Project Hysteria" splashed the Brexit press front pages on Thursday, with the Express, Telegraph and Sun treating the figures with predictable scorn. "Carnage!" mocks the Sun's front page, adding snidely "Haven't we been here before?" Others report the Bank governor Mark Carney's shocking words faithfully, the Times headlining that no deal would cause "the worst crash since the 1930s"; the Mirror that "May's deal will cost us £100bn a year"; and the FT "May forced to concede all Brexit roads lead to a poorer Britain." There could hardly be a starker warning. So will it move the dial on public opinion? Panic seems to have shunted the FT leader into reluctant support for Theresa May's plan, "imperfect but ultimately pragmatic": a surprise after its devastating daily reporting of Brexit harm on one industry after another. But the governor has tipped the FT into holding on to Nurse May, for fear of something very much worse. I suspect the Guardian's mainly remain readers following every twist and turn of Brexit coverage are searching, yearning, craving, aching for the one story that never comes. This is the one that shows the public swinging so emphatically and unequivocally against Brexit, even in the most Brexit-voting towns, that parliament can just call the whole thing off, as the columnist Steve Richards suggested. Indeed, slowly the pendulum has swung: YouGov's 20 November poll asking "In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?" shows 47% saying right, and 53% wrong. Prof John Curtice comments on relatively few switchers: the good old grim reaper carries off old Brexiters, replaced with passionate young remain voters. Some 600,000 Britons die each year, while 700,000 reach voting age. YouGov founder Peter Kellner finds that, due to demographics alone, by 19 January, just before we depart, the leave majority will have vanished without a single switcher. The dead, not the living, will drag us out of the EU. Yesterday's shocking economic forecasts may shift some waverers, but a great bulk of Brexiters long ago discounted "project fear", despite the plunge in the pound that did follow the referendum. They talk of the Dunkirk spirit and short-term pain in exchange for "getting our country back", borders, sovereignty and no cash to Brussels. The Mail's Survation poll this week asked different questions, but one showed voters preferring no deal to May's deal by 41% to 35% - which is, frankly, petrifying. Kellner finds, excluding don't knows, that by 59% to 41%, voters now want a public vote, and 75% say the Brexit on offer is "nothing like that which was promised two years ago". Day by day, a referendum on May's deal looks more plausible. Faced with impenetrable thickets of impossibilities in a parliamentary impasse, more MPs are moving in that direction - Jo Johnson on Wednesday making a compelling case. John McDonnell sounds considerably more enthusiastic about the prospect than his leader, whose dull repetition of a vague "jobs-first Brexit" plan sounds as if it lacks even his own conviction. The Norway option gains ground among influential Tories, such as Oliver Letwin, Nicholas Soames, George Freeman and about a dozen more. Although some 70 Labour MPs voted for Norway in June, currently only four, led by Stephen Kinnock are in that camp. To remainers, Norway's attractions are obvious - forming a strong outer EU ring inside Efta and EEA, adding the customs union to the single market, with influence, though no seat, at the EU table. "Moving house but staying in the neighbourhood," as Kinnock puts it. But here's the great stumbling block: it means keeping freedom of movement, with only insignificant tweaks. This would have been the right route had Theresa May seized it from day one, declaring EEA/Efta and customs union as a great compromise between her 48% and her 52% of citizens. But it's far too late to spring freedom of movement on the people now, rousing howls of betrayal after voters have been promised border control most emphatically by May and by Labour ever since referendum day. Her immigration policies - appalling failures - are her signature tune, despite Thursday's latest Office for National Statistics figures showing the absurdity of her position: a British brain-drain fleeing Brexit, lowest EU net immigration for six years, at a mere 74,000 compared with the arrival of 248,000 net non-EU migrants, whose entry we already control. But any re-acceptance of EU freedom of movement would now need a public vote. The prospect of another referendum fills me with dread, though I marched with the rest. The polling figures are far too close to predict the result. The campaign ramping up Brexit racism and hate, the bullying, false promises and fact-free mendacity will be vile. Will the BBC be as pusillanimous as before, giving equal weight to facts and nonsense? Rows over setting the vote question and months of campaigning will be excruciatingly divisive. But then a remain result would see it all over and done with: May's plan will lead to years more ferocious wrangling over the final deal. So far remain leaders still lack slogans that connect better emotionally with voters than last time. They need to capture the hopeful, upbeat spirit of the people on the 700,000 march, with their Europe-friendly homemade placards, their warmth, wit and optimism for a better European future, against a more alien America. Another referendum will be hell. But it is the only hope of remaining in Europe with the consent of voters who can now see the crippling damage Brexit will do.

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