Dan Perry
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble"
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British Jews should push for a second Brexit referendum

Even if it means siding with Corbyn, another, more informed vote would serve the interests of the community and of democracy
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn confers with fellow opposition leaders prior to meeting with senior MPs from across all parties to discuss stopping a no-deal Brexit, Tuesday August 27, 2019. See PA (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn confers with fellow opposition leaders prior to meeting with senior MPs from across all parties to discuss stopping a no-deal Brexit, Tuesday August 27, 2019. See PA (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

These are crucial days for opposition and rebel British lawmakers trying to block Boris Johnson’s “no-deal Brexit.” Their machinations, unfolding as we speak, deserve support. Especially that of Britain’s Jews, and despite Jeremy Corbyn being involved.

The Brits seem worn out by the epic Brexit bicker, and a strange confusion plagues the land. Odd as it may seem, the obvious needs to be said: there is absolutely nothing undemocratic about holding a referendum to ratify the Brexit deal that festers on the table. If anything it  would be the democratic thing to do.

The undemocratic thing would be to permit the essentially unelected Johnson to deny the people a final say and neutralize parliament in procedural ways so that he can march unimpeded off this cliff of his making.

Sure, there is a stoical narrative that says a “do-over” would reflect refusal by evil elites to accept the will of the ordinary people, who “have spoken.” That is illogic, but it aligns with the global populism of the day, and deftly bamboozles.

Under normal circumstances it would fall to the Labour opposition to make the case. But while most of Labour’s backers voted to remain, some did not, which clouds the picture. And Labour leader Corbyn is unfortunately a thinly disguised Leaver himself who dislikes the EU; in the fashion of a radical leftist he hates all establishments (except Hamas, Hezbollah and the Cuban Communist Party).  

So I’ll make the case myself.

We must remember that in the 2016 referendum a narrow majority asked to leave the EU in theory. The cost was unknown and the Leave campaign featured a collection of lies astounding even by the standards of democracy in the digital age. That’s relevant: if the cost turned out to be Britain sinking into the sea, or the eradication of every fish and chip, they’d reconsider.

The post-referendum government, despite being led by the Remainer Theresa May, did its sporting best to negotiate a separation deal with the EU that carries out the error but avoids complete disaster.

That deal was disliked even by many in her own party and parliament shot it down several times until she resigned as prime minister. Now Britain has Johnson, the Brexit leader it deserves. He can badger EU leaders all he wants to make changes: his problem is reality, not the deal.

The EU and the UK must both have a border, for migration control, for trade, and for good form.  

Because Northern Ireland is (for the moment) part of the UK, that means the border would have to run between that area and the Republic of Ireland which shares the island and is part of the EU. This reverses the Good Friday agreement that essentially unified the island and is considered a success. So it faces resistance.

The alternative of a border between Northern Ireland and the main island in effect severs it from the UK, unless the country agrees to remain under the EU’s customs regime. This is the so-called “backstop” problem. British nationalists rightly fear all this means Northern Ireland will eventually float away. There is hopeful talk of technological solutions in the future.

This refusal to choose a square peg or round hole is symbolic of all of Brexit. The project demands tradeoffs. It will carry costs alongside benefits. The ledger looks like this:

  • If it leaves the EU, the UK will no longer need to accept the risk of being overrun by Romanians, Poles and French persons. That risk is part of the EU package and it threatens Britain because it has the attractions of the English language and the glorious city of London (Walt Disney could not resist it, and neither can I). Brexit would enable Britain to stay somewhat British. It’s OK to prefer bangers and mash to kasekrainers mit vielen scharfen senf (although it is a little odd).
  • If it leaves the EU, Britain will no longer have to bow before edicts from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Sovereignty and freedom will be served. This includes the freedom to be poorer, but there is dignity in a more basic subsistence. Fewer Bentleys; more beans for breakfast.
  • But on the other hand Britain will also lose free trade access to the richest market in the world. And it may still end up taking Europe’s rules but without having a say in how they are written.
  • It will likely lose not just Northern Ireland but Scotland, whose people despise Brexit and do not appreciate being subject to England’s whims. Maybe also Wales. Goodbye, “United Kingdom”! Hello, “Little England.”
  • Britain’s older generation (who mostly supported Leave) will have badly messed with the younger generation that hates Brexit but was too foolish to vote in great numbers in 2016.
  • I am currently in Mallorca and can report that Brits are here in force, enjoying visa-free travel. Many  have homes in Spain. Say goodbye to this as well; apply two weeks in advance.

Which side nets positive? It should be decided by the people, who can fairly enough be told: “We have done as you asked, and this is the deal that’s possible. Now that we know, ratify or reject, and be quick about it, please.”

It seems that Corbyn is willing to champion such a thing, if Conservative rebels make him prime minister and vote no-confidence in Johnson. I imagine these rebels would prefer a replacement Tory instead. That seems more reasonable, and I hope Labour supports it.

This will require more pressure on Corbyn. And that’s where Britain’s Jews come in (I lived in Britain for years and was unofficially one myself). Most of them dislike Corbyn because of Labour’s awkward grappling with anti-Semitism in its ranks. But the context also gives the Jewish community leverage, as Corbyn tries to make amends.

The Jewish community might focus on one more consequence of Brexit that I left for last. The EU can be ridiculous but it is also the structure that has kept the peace in Europe after two world wars, and it stands for a type of decency and rationality in the world. Weakening it would be a prize for global despots who hate idealism and humanism, think safety nets are communism, dismiss global warming and see politics as a zero-sum game. They hope Europe will fail, and they are bad for the Jews. They are a much bigger threat than a bunch of backbench Labour idiots with bigoted views.

If anyone should appreciate the pacifying and positive role of the EU, it is the Jewish community. So dear friends in Britain: Keep your eye on the ball, be unafraid to join the fray, and sound the shofar for a second referendum.

About the Author
Dan Perry is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press, served as chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, and authored two books about Israel. A technologist by education, he is the Chief Business Development Officer of the adtech company Engageya and Managing Partner of the award-winning communications firm Thunder11. His Substack, Ask Questions Later, is available for subscribers at Also follow him at;;;; and
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