PM’s best way out: let MPs then public vote on deal

by Hugo Dixon | 12.12.2018

Although Theresa May has survived a Tory party coup, her deal is dead. She’ll be a zombie prime minister unless she puts it to Parliament and then the people fast.

In normal times, a victory of only 200 votes to 117 among her own MPs would force her to resign. Given that most of her supporters were employed by the government, this is big vote of no confidence. But these are not normal times and May is determined to hang on in Downing Street.

She is off to Brussels tomorrow to the European Council saying she wants to secure changes to her deal. But even she must know this is a futile strategy. It merely buys her a couple of days.

So what will May do on Monday? If she is true to nature, she will kick the can and play for yet more time – delaying until January the vote by MPs on her deal. But that too is hopeless. With the opposition and so many Tories opposed, the chances of success are close to nil.

But what are her alternatives? There’s no majority in Parliament for any form of Brexit – soft, hard, semi-soft or extreme. They are all flawed.

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On the other hand, if she plays for time, Parliament may fill the vacuum and back a People’s Vote. Labour will, of course, first try to provoke a general election – though it’s not clear when it will call a vote of confidence. But once it has tried and presumably failed, there will be a majority in Parliament for a new referendum.

Does the prime minister really want to be forced to call one against her will? Wouldn’t it be better to be bold and call a People’s Vote herself? If so, it would be best to move swiftly: put her deal to MPs early next week before Parliament breaks for Christmas and, after it is voted down, propose a new referendum early in the New Year.

Some will say that it is foolish to bring a vote to Parliament she is bound to lose and then to propose a People’s Vote than many Tory MPs hate. But one consequence of tonight’s vote is that they can’t dislodge her as their leader for another year. So she doesn’t have to worry about malcontents provided they don’t vote to bring down the government (which they probably won’t) and provided she can assemble a majority for a People’s Vote from other parties (which she could).

Others will point out that the prime minister herself is opposed to a new referendum. But she was also against an election until she called one last year. And she was adamant that she would put her deal to MPs yesterday until she cancelled it on Monday. So she has form when it comes to u-turns.

Backing a People’s Vote would be the best way for her to take back control.

Edited by Sam Ashworth-Hayes

6 Responses to “PM’s best way out: let MPs then public vote on deal”

  • From Theresa May’s perspective, having now experienced being humiliated by the now toothless, demented Brexiteers, this could lead her first of all to cull these people from her government, and replace them with more level-headed people. This would represent a form of sweet justice. Why shouldn’t she? She is safe for 12 months without the risk of being deposed.
    On the basis that she is quite tenacious about clinging to power, she must realise, as well as receiving the same advice, that she could come out of this whole Brexit scenario, unscathed. How? Simply announce immediately after the Brexit deal that she will hold a second referendum. On the basis that she realises:
    a. She can now ignore the Brexiteer group;
    b. She can now shift the responsibilty of Brexit onto the population;
    c. Importantly, as a result of b. the Tory Party will survive electorily.
    Let’s wait and see. She might, at the same time as her announcement, make strong reconciliatory tones to the population offering a new deal. This would be to admit that the Tory Party now recognises it has completely failed the deprived areas of the UK, and therefore will be targetting them with substantial extra investment, starting first with the Northern Powerhouse Raillink. She might also add, that the population should consider the advice from treasury reports that more money would be available to them, by voting to remain.
    Why not?

  • Why not withdraw A50? The ECJ ruled that we can do so. It would bring this disaster to a rapid end and we could get on with our lives. A new referendum will simply give the criminals who manipulated the last one to do so again. Their ‘war chest’ must be full to the brim with money donated by those who have only their own interests at heart (whatever they may be) not ours or the country generally.

  • Burton. You make a very good point about the war chest available to the Brexiteers which we would need to be prepared for in the event we get the People’s Vote.

  • If Theresa May wants to “unite the country” and all that… well, you can’t do it with a majority vote. Neither in parliament nor in a referendum. A binary vote does not measure consensus – it measures the very opposite, so many ‘for’ and so many ‘against’, the degree of dissent.
    To be really inclusive, why not a multi-option people’s vote? Something like: ‘no deal’, ‘Norway +’, ‘May’s withdrawal’ and ‘remain’? An absolute minimum of 3 options; an ideal minimum of 4 and a maximum of 6. Do it as in New Zealand in 1992 – and they had 5: set up an independent commission, and let them sort out the options. Then ask all concerned to cast their preferences. And the option with the highest average preference would be the winner.
    If we had done this in 2016 – (I issued a press release in Feb 2016, asking for just 3 options – EU, EEA and WTO; and EU, with 48% 1st preferences and quite a few 2nds, would probably have been the outright winner, by a landslide!)
    So, should the People’s Vote be arguing for such an inclusive voting procedure? At a stroke, it would defeat one of the main arguments of its opponents. Yes, I was and still am a ‘remainer’, but I want to live with my neighbours, all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m from Belfast.

  • I’m not confident that even if there was a second referendum, there would be a majority to either accept Mrs May’s deal or stay in the EU. I live outside London, and meet many people who have no idea of the benefits of EU membership, and seem to think it’s all the EU’s fault that Britain can’t get its own way. They don’t realise that we had input in making EU laws which benefit all of us, and don’t have much idea of the chaos which could result from a No Deal Brexit. If there is a second referendum, then these people must be given clear and detailed information about the consequences of a No Deal.

  • Peter Emerson’s reply makes real sense, binary choice referendums are almost always a disaster as they reduce complex problems to unrealistic oversimplified either/or solutions. Politicians may like a simple binary choice referendum but many of them will not be around to experience the consequences. The EU referendum consequences will effect the population of the UK for generations, long after the politicians who caused the disaster have gone to the great parliament in the sky.