It's happened to everyone. You try on a sweater, look at yourself in the mirror and you just have to own it. It costs more than you normally spend on clothes but you think how wonderful this piece of clothing will make you feel and so you plunk down your credit card and take it home.
The following morning, you look in the mirror and gasp in horror. The color makes you look sickly. The cut makes you look dumpy. You can't imagine what you were thinking, and you want nothing more than to return the sweater and get your money back. And of course with most stores you can.
Many Britons woke up the morning after the Brexit vote with exactly that kind of buyer's remorse. They thought they'd been expressing their dissatisfaction with their own government, the EU government, and the tide of immigration caused by geopolitical problems a continent away. They woke up and found they'd purchased a drastic decrease in the value of the pound, a steep drop in the stock exchange, and the prospect of hugely high unemployment. That last item is particularly ironic since fear of unemployment is one driving force behind the anti-immigration fervor that drove the "Leave" campaign in the first place.
Can they take their sweater back to the store?
My guess is that they can. Here's why I believe there's a very decent chance that Britain will re-run Brexit referendum and will this time vote to stay:
1. There's still plenty of time.
Infuriated European leaders have loudly told Britain to get out of the EU immediately and not let the door hit them on the way out. But EU rules allow for the process of departure to take two years, and since it's never been done before and no one actually knows how to do it, it's not going to be a rapid process.
Meantime, in spite of the grandstanding, EU leaders--experienced bureaucrats that they are--claim Britain has not yet officially notified them of its departure. A hundred thousand newspaper and TV stories about the vote don't actually count as notification they say. What we have here is a nice little period of limbo which will give the approximately one half of Britains who voted for Brexit a chance to think about what they've done.
2. Many Britons who voted for Brexit didn't understand what it was.
Don't take my word for it, consider the Britons themselves and their searches. The day after the vote, the second most popular EU-related Google search was: "What is the EU?" The second most popular search about the referendum was "What is Brexit?"
And in a spectacular display of buyer's remorse, the question "What happens if we leave the EU?" more than tripled--eight hours after the polls closed.
3. It seems no one actually wanted Brexit.
We already know that the overwhelming majority of Britain's leaders want to remain in the EU. Maybe the majority of citizens did too. One who voted to leave told the BBC he was a "a bit shocked" at the results. He added, "I didn't think my vote was going to matter too much because I thought we were just going to remain."
Indeed, some are theorizing that most who voted to leave expected that. "I think there have been a lot of reluctant Brexiters around, people who voted leave thinking it wouldn't happen but they'd be able to vent and to tell all their friends at dinner parties they'd done it," an unnamed Tory member of parliament told the Guardian.
4. Even those who did want it may not want the disintegration it will cause.
In 2014, Scotland held its own stay-or-leave referendum to answer the question whether it should remain in the United Kingdom or become a separate nation. In this case, voters chose to stay, by 55 to 44 percent.
However, Scotland voted resoundingly to stay in the EU. (Donald Trump took a lot of criticism for his morning-after tweet about how Scotland was "going wild" over the vote--many Scots quickly and forcefully corrected his misinterpretation of their wishes.) Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon says it is "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland is being forced to leave the EU, and that the government is readying a new referendum on whether to remain in the UK. It will likely have a different result than the last one.
Then there are the six counties of Northern Ireland, part of the UK and a contentious area ever since the remaining 26 counties of Ireland became an independent nation in the 1930s. Ireland is not only part of the EU but also uses the euro, and it has prospered as a result of its close ties with Europe. In fact, Northern Ireland has received EU funds as "peace money." There too, local leaders have called for a referendum, raising the prospect of a single united island of Ireland, its own country, an EU member, and none of it part of the UK.
Even some Londoners have called for separation from Britain, London having voted to stay in the EU by a wide majority. The prospect of London seceding seems unlikely. On the other hand, a lot of people are apparently planning to vote with their feet. "How to emigrate" and "How to get an Irish passport" spiked on Google in the hours after the results were announced.
5. A lot of Britons want a re-vote.
How many? A petition to re-run the referendum posted on the House of Commons website has gotten 1.6 million signatures--so far--less than 36 hours after results were announced.
I think it'll happen. What do you think?