Brexit is about conflicting ideas, identity, emotions and notions of democracy.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said before today's crushing vote defeat that MPs needed to ensure that the will of the people was upheld.

She meant the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 referendum, when Britain voted to leave the European Union by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

But what if the will of the people changes? What if the voting public did not get a clear idea of what leaving means?

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Polls in recent months have shown a consistent trend in favour of remain but the Government has resisted calls for a second referendum.

Senior Tories have said that people pushing for a do-over can't keep polling the people until they get the result they want.

But democracy doesn't stay still and there's a strong argument that the people as well as MPs should get a say on what form Brexit should take or whether it is still wanted, now that a draft deal reached with Brussels has been rejected by MPs in the House of Commons by 432 votes to 202.

The Brexit deadline of March 29 is an artificial barrier. It can be extended.

A deeper problem is even if a second referendum were to be held, and remain were to win, would that satisfy the extensive portion of the UK population that favours leaving? The self-evident answer would be no. An deal in which Britain is out of the EU but gets most of the benefits of the single market and customs union could be an answer.

Britain has had a conflicted attitude towards the EU for years.

It would prefer a distant second-cousin relationship rather to being all in the family.

It wants the benefits of trade and to have a say in political developments. But it doesn't want a full-throated acceptance of EU rules.

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Unfortunately for younger Britons, cutting off freedom of movement isn't just about stopping immigrants from working in the UK. It works both ways.

Brexit makes little sense economically.

Britain has one of the biggest trading blocs on its doorstep and it has chosen to slam the door on that stability.

The Brexit process has been mishandled, with a four-point referendum victory treated as though it were an overwhelming mandate to leave.

It wasn't.

The Conservative administration, bedevilled by internal division and weakened as a minority government, has focused too much on the extreme right of the winning side, instead of a softer middle that could have drawn the grudging support of the losers.

If Brexit goes ahead, May or whoever is Prime Minister, should aim for as much consensus as possible.

May should pivot and hold talks with MPs in Parliament from across the aisle opposed to a hard Brexit. Pandering to the Brexiteers has only brought chaos.