We’re within a cat’s whisker of a second EU referendum, suspects Roger Ratcliffe

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This week Big Issue North has a world exclusive. There will be another referendum to determine the final Brexit outcome. Larry the Downing Street cat already knows this is going to happen, even if his pet prime minister Theresa May – whom he rescued from the Westminster Dogs and Cats Home – is still blissfully ignorant.

Also in the second-referendum loop is Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat who lives across the street and is Larry’s bitter adversary. Palmerston, you may remember, has made no secret of seriously coveting Larry’s job and at one point ran into Number 10 before being forcibly evicted. Like his former pet foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Palmerston will be lying in wait over the next few months while the famous black door opens and closes through the most fraught period in British politics since the 1930s. Oh yes, Palmerston and Boris are watching for their big chance.

Of course, the actual decision on another Brexit ballot hasn’t been taken as far as I know, but the clamour for one has got louder and louder over the summer, and as the Conservatives continue to paint themselves into a corner with their absurd and ruinous red lines and more big employers announce they are moving to the Continent, it will become deafening.

Last month the Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson backed a vote on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, while a fashion tycoon gave £1 million to the so-called People’s Vote campaign. In the past week alone we have had a couple of heavy hitters backing a second vote. One of the UK’s biggest unions, the GMB, called for the Brexit deal – or no deal – to be put to the British public. And Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, also backed a second vote as a last resort if it looks like the country is crashing out of Europe on ruinous terms.

And no deal is precisely what appears to be on the cards. Evie, the Cabinet Office’s mouser-in-chief and the only female cat in Whitehall, could have told May that the cabinet’s away day deal thrashed out at Chequers in July would soon be dead in the English Channel. And so it was.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has effectively read the last rites on the proposals, so what we are left with is a Brexit that, according to the government’s own predictions, will lead to at least 10,000 lorries a day snarled by EU customers checks, the need to stockpile medicine and food, severe consequences for everything from driving licences and nuclear safety to mobile phone usage in Europe, and the small matter of £80 billion extra government borrowing – considerably more if there’s no deal. And the implications for peace in Northern Ireland are unimaginable.

In coming months expect Brexiteers saying a second referendum would be a “gross betrayal of democracy”. But the people were sold a lie. They didn’t vote to make themselves poorer, lose jobs, accept lower standards of foods and environmental protection. Which is why the second referendum campaign is unstoppable.

Of course, an alternative ending to the Brexit story might be a new version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in which cats like Larry, Palmerston and Evie take over Downing Street and save us from disaster. They couldn’t possibly make things any worse.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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