The People’s Vote campaign has been simmering away under the bonnet of Brexit since the referendum result was announced, all the way back in 2016. The million-strong march through London in favour of a second referendum demonstrated the amount of support behind the idea with the general public, and prominent politicians and celebrities took to the stage demanding a second vote. During the second indicative votes process, the strategy for a second referendum won more overall votes than any other plan.
You wouldn’t have been stupid to assume that it was around the corner.
Yesterday, Labour’s National Executive Committee (or top brass for us mere mortals) decided that Labour’s official policy to shift in favour of a second referendum would not be guaranteed, despite major support for it across the party’s membership and MPs. It would only be changed if the ongoing cross-party negotiations failed and the only option left was May’s deal.
So, will a second referendum actually happen?
Look, Brexit is as divisive as an obelus (bet you didn’t know it was called that, did you?). A second referendum isn’t going to make everything magically better because:
a) If we now voted to Remain, most Leave supporters would be absolutely apoplectic and with good reason;
b) If we then Remained, Brexit wouldn’t magically go away – all of the wounds of this division of society would be just as open and raw, we just wouldn’t be damaging ourselves economically;
c) And there’s absolutely no guarantee that Remain would be the outcome, despite recent polling suggesting that there is a majority in favour of it now.
So it does, depressingly, make a sort of sense that Corbyn is trying to resist it. However, what doesn’t make much sense is that Corbyn has always insisted that government should be a reflection of the will of the party, not top-down, authoritarian dogma. So it’s a tad hypocritical of him to now be refusing to listen to his party, who are, in the vast majority, in favour of a second referendum.
Yes, there are a few Labour MPs who represent Leave-voting constituencies who are ardently against the idea, and if they are ignored they might leave the Labour Party, but realistically there is no way of pleasing everyone at this stage. So why not decide to appease the majority? Isn’t Corbyn’s whole slogan, “For the many, not the few?”
But Will It Actually Happen?
In order for it to happen, there needs to be a majority in the House of Commons for it. The Tory party has said that it will absolutely never allow one to take place, although there would probably be at least a few rebels who voted in favour of one like Dominic Grieve or Olly-bolly Letwin.
However, if Labour’s position is to whip in favour of one, there is a very real possibility of it getting enough votes – the Lib-Dems, Change UK, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru… all of these parties are unequivocally in favour of one.
It all comes down to Labour (plus a few Tory rebels).
However, if a Labour-backed deal is negotiated with the Conservatives (and reports are starting to come out of progress being made on that front), then the ruling by Labour’s NEC yesterday rules out support for a referendum, as they believe a customs union-oriented deal is the best possible outcome at this stage.
Even though, as I have explained before, that deal is an absolute shitshow that neither achieves Brexit nor keeps us in, while removing us from the big-boys’ table in Brussels. It’s a political masterclass in an accidental national suicide by autoerotic asphyxiation.
So it really is hard to say. Personally, I believe that the deal with the Tories will never actually happen, so Corbyn could well be forced into whipping in favour of a second referendum. However, it might still not get the votes it needs to pass through Parliament.
But remember: a second referendum would not be end of this mess. It would just be the first step on another path. Admittedly our current path is covered in dog turds, but the second path would be covered in something only marginally better.
Fox turds, for example.
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