MPs mustn’t fall for PM’s referendum ploy. It’s not enough

by Luke Lythgoe | 21.05.2019

Theresa May’s latest Brexit offer to MPs sounds tempting, but the details are vague and she might not be around to honour it anyway. If she wants pro-Europeans’ support for her deal then she must do more. That means putting a People’s Vote on the front of her Bill.

In a speech this afternoon, the prime minister offered up her “new Brexit deal”. This was basically the old deal, which MPs have rejected three times now, with several concessions tagged on – most of which have been floated before.

The most interesting one for pro-Europeans was a “requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum” being included in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – the legislation needed to bring May’s deal into domestic law, expected to be voted on in the week of June 3.

With Brexit, the devil is always in the detail, and there isn’t nearly enough detail here. It’s still unclear whether May’s government would, or could, carry out a new referendum if that’s what MPs voted for. What the prime minister made abundantly clear is that a new referendum is not what she wants.

May said a vote by MPs would require the government “to make provisions for such a referendum”. But that doesn’t make a People’s Vote a certainty. If the vote didn’t go her way, then the WAB’s legislative process could easily be stalled. This government is also highly volatile, with many Tories jostling to replace May. All a new leader needs is a new Queen’s speech and the WAB would fall.

The likelihood is that May will be replaced by a Brexit hardliner, thanks to the composition of the Tory grassroots who select new leaders. Following her speech many Brexiter MPs lined up on social media to announce that they would not be voting for the WAB. The Bill would have a short shelf life if their candidate got into Downing Street.

So the prime minister finds herself, and her deal, in an incredibly difficult situation. She’s lost the support of her ERG hardline backbenchers. A handful of pro-Brexit Labour defectors won’t make up the numbers needed to get her deal through Parliament. May needs the backing of pro-People’s Vote MPs.

It looked like she was trying to appeal to that pro-European contingent today. If so, she needs a bigger offer such as putting a confirmatory referendum on the Bill itself – not just a vague vote for one. That way MPs have more certainty over the Bill they are helping through.

What’s the alternative for May? In quick succession: her deal fails, she loses power, Boris Johnson or another Brexit hardliner becomes prime minister, and Brexit shifts away from her compromise to a choice between a no-deal Brexit, a People’s Vote or a general election with the possibility of a Corbyn government. She hates all those outcomes.

If May wants to keep her deal alive, she needs to make a more concrete and much better offer to pro-Europeans. Only then should MPs who want a People’s Vote consider it – and again, the devil will be in the detail.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “MPs mustn’t fall for PM’s referendum ploy. It’s not enough”

  • This is just so incredibly boring. Meanwhile British Steel, Jamie Oliver and loads of otters going under. And the old flocking to Farage and his buses, limmos etc. We just need to stay in the EU and try to rebuild this country which, actually, may not be possible. So, then the ‘oldies’ can enjoy theme parks and memories but my children and grandchildren languish in a declining country.

  • I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her,. She is predictable only in her unpredictability. Corbyn has to get off the fence and get behind a People’s Vote. He has already said this ‘new’ deal is not enough and Labour will not support it. He is a very annoying bloke and I want the remainer MPs in the Labour Party to stand up to Corbyn. Tom Watson and Starmer have gone quiet and we need them to be more consistently to the fore. The Labour Party leaflet for the election was pathetic. It was dull and poorly presented with a confused message. The Tories have not even bothered to leaflet in my area (which voted Leave). Thus, they are abstaining and wanting May to get a good hiding so the hardliners can step in and take advantage of the situation.
    It is very concerning and Corbyn may well come to regret his ambivalence. He is putting his career first believing Brexit will allow him the chance to become PM. He needs to put the country first otherwise there is disaster in front of us.

  • Such is the volume of continued anger and vitriol from the Brexiteers that I’m beginning to wonder whether Britain’s continued membership of the EU is a good idea, from the EU’s point of view. It would held them back. Maybe it would be nobler for us to take a leaf out of Captain Oates’ book and say to the EU “I’ m just going outside. I may be some time…”

  • The way things go I think the countdown clocks for a nasty Brexit, as well as the one timing the dissolution of the United Kingdom, are now running. England soon will find itself a nation of angry brexiteers trying to make the best of what’s left of their economy after the reality of severely reduced trade and industry starts to bite. Scotland, Northern Ireland and perhaps Wales will be looking for ways to ensure they have a realistic future as independent nations. Northern Ireland probably seeking to be part of the Republic and therewith the EU, which looks like the most viable option to avoid hard borders on that island to keep the economy humming. Scotland and Wales going it alone, possibly teaming up (maybe even with Ireland) as a Celtic republic, looks economically like the best option to revert to EU membership in the quickest manner and so best exploit their resources from fisheries, farming and tourism, never mind quickly establishing initiatives to take over the place that England traditionally had with education, research and innovation before that all disappears abroad. Hard borders on the English/ Scottish island will be inevitable, the increased willingness of the English to re-institute the border controls of old only too obvious on my recent trip abroad by car via Dover. With respect to holidays in the sun something the English in their Brexit craze no doubt also never voted for, but the 52% were a bit too dim to see that coming too. But what a sad, extremely upsetting end of the UK. And that kind of anger, of course, might well lead to unpleasant -if not illegal and violent- machinations from the side of England to avoid this scenario of the UK breaking up from coming true. Let there be a people’s vote to stop extremist factions from doing all this damage.

  • The UK is broken – no question. All the likely scenarios will do nothing to mend it. Only by staying in the EU will there be any possibility of remedying the sickness that prevails at the moment – and even that will be no more than a sticking plaster. What the UK needs RIGHT NOW is a leader with courage, vision, and the sort of public charisma that can enthuse the people – particularly the youth. Whatever Tony Blair’s shortcomings, he had a way with words and that is what is needed, not some grey individual who simply mumbles the old mantras. The real danger is that we will get a demagogue, a la Trump, who will ignite the far right. Indeed, there is much about 2019 Britain which is similar to 1930s Germany. When nations are weakened, the rats come out to feast. Cometh the hour, cometh the man – but where is he ??

    I sincerely hope that David Cameron has the grace to feel a morsel of guilt over what he has done. Poor broken Britain – soon also to lose Scotland, if I am any judge, and if so, we will no longer be able to prefix “Britain” with “Great” (because that is a geopolitical name, nothing to do with our standing).