May recently denounced a second referundum on Brexit negotiations, saying

Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum, another vote, which would do irreparable damage to our politics. Because, it would say to millions who trusted in our democracy that our democracy does not deliver

I find her position odd because the number 1 person in the UK who's bearing the burden of Brexit is May herself. The negotiation process she has lead has been problematic so far. It then stands to reason that if a second referendum was held, it would lessen the burden on her, provide her a getaway from this mess.

What more, May was actually opposed to Brexit from the beginning, which again ought to suggest that a second referendum would be more in line with her interests.

And yet, she opposes it. Why? My question is, what are the actual, political reasons for why May would be opposed to a second referendum?

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    Scottish independence... Best out of three? I mean... It was ok for Brexit? – Richard Dec 17 '18 at 19:47
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    I'm sorry, but we generally do not answer questions which ask us to read the minds of people. Also, the first version of your question included a lot of polemic language and unnecessary personal opinion. Please note that we do expect questions and answers to have a neutral tone. We are here to explain politics, not to engage in political activism. If you want to speak your personal opinions about political events, please use a website which is dedicated to that purpose. – Philipp Dec 17 '18 at 22:24

A referendum is intended to settle a disputed matter by referring it to the population. There have been several referendums recently. If the decision of a referendum does not settle a matter, then it could be argued that any of these should also be held again.

There was a referendum on Scottish independence. It is is acceptable to hold a second referendum on leaving the EU, why not hold a second referendum on Scottish independence? This is the argument the the SNP will make. With Westminster seen as weak and failing, it is not inconceivable that 50% of Scots would consider that their interests lie with Holyrood. This may not be the most likely scenario, but Unionism is more important to May than almost any other aspect of policy.

Next there is the prospect of the Conservative party actually splitting over the EU issue. The previous campaign was divisive, a future one could be far worse. It might see an Anti-EU conservative movement split from the Pro-EU faction. If these parties were to face each other in a General election it could result in electoral oblivion of the Conservatives. Leading a party that can fight and win elections central to May's politics.

If a referendum is held on a "deal or no-deal" basis, there is a large proportion of the country who would reject the referendum. It would fail to provide for the settlement that a referendum is intended to give.

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    The notion of having Brexit decided by a single referendum was never a good idea, since there were two fundamental separate questions that needed to be answered: (1) would the public favor leaving the EU if the terms were sufficiently favorable, and (2) would the public favor leaving the EU under terms that can actually be reached. It would make little sense to expend time and effort ascertaining what terms can be reached if the public wouldn't want to leave regardless, but the public can't meaningfully answer #2 until it knows what the terms are. – supercat Dec 17 '18 at 21:47
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    Whether 0, 1 or 2 or more referendums is/was a good idea or not, is beyond the scope of this answer. – James K Dec 17 '18 at 22:35
  • My point was that there are many issues that cannot reasonably be settled in one fell swoop via any kind of single referendum, and must instead be broken down into multiple issues that can be settled sequentially. Referendums may be useful for settling issues that they can settle, but that doesn't mean any issue put to a referendum should be regarded as "settled" thereby. – supercat Dec 17 '18 at 22:51

Ethically I think the quote you have above captures an essential part of the argument; it is was promised that Britain leave the EU by March, a second referendum implies that the politicians in parliament failed to follow through.

Even politically I think the move to a second referendum is extremely shaky; she can be portrayed as admitting defeat, and to be not following a basic principle of democracy.

Perhaps now that she has announced that she won't run next election her calculus might change..

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    Note that the polling on this is extremely complicated (although easy to spin for a good headline. The headline figure on the best outcome is still fairly close to a tie (whatukthinks.org/eu/opinion-polls/euref2-poll-of-polls) although leaning marginally to prefer remain (maybe, depending a lot on the question). But what ought to happen is more pro brexit, and Conservative voters are still heavily leave. – origimbo Dec 17 '18 at 19:17
  • But keep in mind that the Brexiteers have been holding the country hostage - nobody dares speaking up openly against it - and based on that, I think the opinion polls don't reflect the true opinion of the population, who have already given UKIP a bloody nose in the last election. – gnasher729 Dec 17 '18 at 21:21

Mrs. May's problem is that she didn't have the wisdom of Cameron who got rid of the job as quickly as possible, knowing that there was no way he could come out of this mess looking good.

The Brexiteers managed to create a situation where either the UK leaves the EU, and all the consequences will not be their fault and they can blame Mrs. May instead, or the UK doesn't leave the EU, and they can call her a traitor. I assume that her plan, to leave with as little damage as possible, is to enforce Brexit and then slip out quietly and hope people will forget her.

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  • Or even the wisdom of all the Leave campaigning Tories that announced bids for the premiership and then retracted them, or didn't even try – Caleth Dec 18 '18 at 9:56

What more, May was actually opposed to Brexit from the beginning, which again ought to suggest that a second referendum would be more in line with her interests.

And yet, she opposes it. Why?

But exactly. May got the job because she was against Brexit. The general wisdom was that in this way, a "sensible" exit would eventually be crafted out and executed. Notice that currently no one is criticizing May by invoking the fact that she was against Brexit to begin with. No one is really saying "your plan sucks because you were against Brexit in the first place", this is not the prevailing argument among Brexiteers.

But imagine May calling a second referendum: she will be immediately seen (and not just by politicians but by citizens as well) as a "moll", and whatever she has done up to now as an orchestrated plan to sabotage Brexit, and then send it back to the citizens when it would appear that the outcome may be reversed. Too "conspiracy theory" for my taste, but a very plausible public narrative if May calls a 2nd referendum.

Her interests as a politician lie either in succeeding with her Brexit plans (in which case, if indeed hardship does materialize for British people, no one could blame it on her soft Brexit approach, she could actually argue that she has minimized the pain), or in being ousted by internal Tory mutiny. Then she could go back and play the sensible Remainer that respects the will for Brexit, always being able to argue, from the safety of her non-materialized plan, that they should have followed her after all.

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