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Analysis

Greening turns up heat on Tories to back People’s Vote

by Luke Lythgoe | 16.07.2018

In the midst of a summer heatwave, has Justine Greening just turned up the temperature in favour of a People’s Vote? In a column for The Times, the former education secretary has become the most senior Conservative to call for the final say on Brexit to be passed back to voters. As skirmishes in Parliament intensify, and gridlock looks increasingly likely, more of her colleagues could and should see a People’s Vote as the best road out of the chaos.

Greening is a thoughtful politician. She chose not to make waves after her removal from Cabinet back in January. So why now?

Her former colleagues spent months squabbling over a pair of unworkable Brexit solutions. Now Theresa May has her plan, hatched at Chequers, which Greening describes as “the worst of all worlds” – pleasing neither Leavers or Remainers. Greening could have gone further. The Brexit white paper doesn’t please businesses, especially those in the services industry, who have been sitting uncomfortably on the fence since the referendum. Nor will the EU buy it. Talk about a damp squib!

Already, the plan has given a new intensity to the Tory civil war. David Davis, Boris Johnson and several junior ministers have resigned. May faced a verbal barrage from Brexiters over the weekend, whilst still reeling from Donald Trump’s savaging of her plan. Two more have quit in the past 24 hours.

Behind the scenes, May’s whips are reportedly threatening to remove campaign funding from Brexiters in marginal constituencies if they don’t fall in line. At the same time, ruthlessly efficient former Brexit minister Steve Baker is “whipping [Tory Brexters] hard” to resist the government’s pressure. To be clear: this is what a party looks like when it is tearing itself apart.

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Greening suggests that handing Brexit back to the people would be a “fair” and “clear” remedy for the looming deadlock. But Number 10 has said there will be no new vote “under any circumstances”. This is stronger language than we’ve seen so far on the issue, but of course that means little – remember repeatedly being promised “no general election” in 2017?

The government may not have a choice. With rebellions in full swing on both wings of her party, May’s eventual deal with the EU is more likely than ever to get voted down. But Parliament won’t be able to back a workable alternative either.

At this point, a People’s Vote is far and away the best option. “No deal” is madness that many MPs could never support. A general election risks being inconclusive. Tories are also desperate to avoid a Corbyn-led Labour government – and Labour look just as confused over their own Brexit strategy anyway. Nick Clegg, former Lib Dem leader, suggests extending Article 50 negotiations. But without a solution to work towards, what would an extension achieve?

Other prominent Tories might soon reach a similar conclusion to Greening. Perhaps fellow ex-Cabinet colleagues such as Amber Rudd or Damian Green, or more rebellious backbenchers? Dominic Grieve says today this parliamentary turmoil means we might need to “think again” about Brexit, writing in the Evening Standard.

Exactly how a People’s Vote would look is up to Parliament to decide, which InFacts’ Hugo Dixon writes about here. But as Greening says, we need to take the decision “out of the hands of deadlocked politicians, away from the backroom deals, and give it back to the people.” Watching from outside Westminster, much of the British public might be inclined to agree.

Edited by Quentin Peel

4 Responses to “Greening turns up heat on Tories to back People’s Vote”

  • No , of course she hasn’t. It is her opinion not divine law. We had a referendum and Leave won. Remain though decided to continue obstructing this. What makes them think that should another referendum ( by any name) go in their favour Leave will simply roll over in agreement ? The squabble would continue so a further referendum would be held and ………… get the idea?

  • Jason, You seem to forget that Farage was already calling for a second referendum when he thought he had lost in 2016.

  • Jason, it’s not some conspiracy-theory ‘Remain’ that’s obstructing the Brexit process. It’s the fact, becoming more obvious by the day, that what was promised was a mass of contradictions and impossibilities. Whatever deal is eventually reached – if one ever is – will be dramatically opposed to many if not most of the promises for which people voted to Leave. Given that fact, should they not be allowed the opportunity to confirm whether the reality lives up to the promise?

    A confirmatory referendum would not be a simple rehash of the 2016 one. That pitted a single well-defined option, with all its known drawbacks, against quite literally anything else that the individual voter had in their imagination. The fact that many of those aspirations were mutually exclusive could not be taken into account. A confirmatory referendum would give the public two well-defined options to choose from: Deal A or Deal B. Those for whom neither deal perfectly fits their aspirations – of which there will be many on both sides – will have to face reality and decide which they prefer.

    If you have absolute faith that the public will back whatever deal is agreed, what are you afraid of? Let them express that backing, and silence the critics.
    If you think there is the slightest possibility that the will of the people may have changed in the light of the newly revealed facts, then why would you refuse to consult the will of the people?

  • We got the idea a long time ago and rejected it as fundamentally flawed. Just because the electorate chose by a slim margin to leave the EU does not mean that we cannot change our minds. If you thought there was no chance of that happening you wouldn’t be bothered to comment. The fact is, we live in a democracy and votes are part of that. If there is another vote and we stay, you have my blessing to organise for another vote, if you can find someone interested at that point.