A few people still believe that the UK politicians (in their efforts to leave the EU) are implementing the will of the people but the evidence suggests exactly the contrary. It's about time this was cleared up, so here's a logical exercise which should provide the definitive answer.
The suggestion is that the UK's political leaders are honourably sacrificing their own desires (circa 80% of MPs thought it was better for the UK to stay in Europe) in devoted service - you may have heard them mention it once or twice - to the 'Will of the people'.
Now here's the logical exercise:
- Imagine you are a senior UK politician and it is June 2016, the day after the referendum.
- You decide that as a small majority voted to leave, even though all the evidence suggests that is a bad idea (the political 'sacrifice' bit), you must straight away start the process of leaving.
- The first question you ask is 'did the people mean leave just the political union with the EU, or did they want to leave the single market as well?'. You check all available paperwork, but can't find an answer.
- Slightly puzzled, you call your assistants to ask them, but they tell you that they don't know either - although all the evidence (numerous polls) suggest that the people (wisely) want to stay in the single market, the referendum did not ask that question.
If you're sensible, you brief your civil servants to run up a list of options (leave political union; leave political union and single market; leave political union, single market and customs union), with costs and risks identified, and then - as you are entirely motivated by, and servant to, the will of the people - you put those options to the people and let them choose.
That sounds about right. The will of the people being all important, they would simply have to find out what the people actually wanted.
And what did they actually do?
Extreme left and extreme right both declared the UK should leave the single market as well, as quickly as possible, and told the UK population, 'thanks very much, you can all be quiet now, we'll take it from here'.
So why are the UK's politician's being so manipulative on Brexit?
The short version in this case, is that it is much easier to implement long dreamed of extreme ideologies (massive de-regulation or the creation of state monopolies or similar) if the UK is completely disconnected from Europe. The politicians have picked the most expensive leaving options for the population of the UK of course (in real terms), but the UK's extreme politicians, left and right, have decided (and here's where the sacrifice bit actually comes in) that's an acceptable price for the people to pay.
To truly understand the insanity of all this we need to be understanding modern perspectives on populism, but that would make this article a lot longer (so, I'll link this good contemporary book on populism below for any that are interested).
And why no second referendum even though it is a democratic necessity? They suspect that the vote to leave was a blip that wouldn't happen again - May and Corbyn's Brexit toy would be torn from their grasping hands.
The centrist parties have been much more sensible, but are so few in number that the extremists are dominating this Brexit narrative.
And is there any sign of a more honest approach from Labour or Tory? The Tories are continuing on the whole, to plough their insane path (quite possibly destroying the economy in the process) but Labour are now squirming a bit, saying they might 'talk' about staying in the Single Market. That magnanimous gesture would have been more convincing if - at about the same time - they had not been denying their pro-Europe membership any meaningful opportunity to talk about or vote on Brexit.
The most logical conclusion though is that until those extreme politicians separate Brexit from party politics (by offering a 3rd referendum, or at least genuine cross party collaboration) it will be safest to assume they are continuing to prioritise expensive ideological experiments above the wealth, health and wellbeing of the people.