4 steps to getting a People’s Vote when Parliament returns

by Luke Lythgoe | 21.12.2018

MPs have risen for their Christmas break, but an uneasy Brexit stalemate still hangs over Parliament and the country. For many, it’s clear that a People’s Vote is the only way forward for this Brexit mess. But we’re not there yet. Here are four things which probably need to happen soon after Parliament returns before we get a People’s Vote.

Government’s deal put to a vote

Before we can move forward, MPs must reject Theresa May’s miserable Brexit deal – preferably by a wide margin. This was frustrated when the government pulled a vote on the deal earlier this month.

The government is wasting time. MPs must make sure May doesn’t pull the same delay tactic when the deal gets put up for a vote again, probably in the week of January 14. Amendments to key legislation and motions could prevent this.

More MPs back a People’s Vote

MPs across all parties now support a People’s Vote. Several Conservatives, such as Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah, have even quit government roles over it. Amber Rudd and Diane Abbott, frontbenchers on opposite sides of the aisle, both suggested this week that a People’s Vote could be the way forward.

There still isn’t a majority in the Commons for a People’s Vote, but it will come as May’s deal and alternative Brexit schemes are found wanting.

Demand a vote on the Brexit deal

Click here to find out more

Politicians don’t buy into Brexit alternatives

Once May’s deal fails, some MPs will attempt to push alternative Brexit visions. For example, there is the shape-shifting “Norway Plus” model. This would leave us as a massive rule-taker with no say at the EU’s top table. The “jobs-first Brexit” Labour is offering is a mushier version of Norway.

Meanwhile Brexiters are trying to sell a “managed no deal”, where we crash out on WTO terms but strike lots of mini-deals to avert the worst no-deal chaos. This is another fantasy approach from the Brextremists which will clobber the economy.

Labour picks up the pace

Labour’s official policy on the Brexit deal is to push for a general election, and if this cannot move on to “support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”. The way to a general election is a vote of no confidence in the government. However, Jeremy Corbyn held off calling for this because it seems he won’t get the support he needs from the DUP or Tory rebels.

But Labour needs to act at some point. If a general election isn’t happening then, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer reportedly said, they must “move quickly through the gears” to backing a People’s Vote.

With the government’s deal and all other Brexit alternatives failed, Labour in support and Tories breaking ranks, Parliament can start laying the groundwork for a People’s Vote – both in domestic legislation and with the EU. This needs to happen fast and there are hurdles along the way. But already a People’s Vote seems the only way to end this Brexit mess.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

10 Responses to “4 steps to getting a People’s Vote when Parliament returns”

  • I am as much for a People’s Vote as anyone, but I do think that articles such as this must not shy away from saying exactly what the question to be voted on should be, and why. Remain has to be one option, certainly, but what alternative(s) should be offered? The ‘May’ deal, ‘no-deal’, Canada++ (++ what exactly?), or ‘Norway Plus’ (an EU customs union)? Or all of them, using a transferable vote?

    I like Chuka Umunna’s suggestion that there be a simple binary question that offers just one alternative, namely any one form of hard Brexit as selected by the Leavers (by which I think he means Brexiteer MPs). Personally I would give them 7 days to come up with their solution, failing which the alternative is the May deal. That would put the screws on them in a way they have never had to face up to hitherto. Although I would prefer a transferable vote and several options, I don’t think either Parliament or the Electoral Commission are likely to have the guts to do something so radical, so I’d reluctantly put that aside.

    A People’s Vote requires an Act of Parliament spelling out the question to be put to the People. We, i.e. those who are seeking to get a People’s Vote, cannot wait till the last minute before thoroughly considering and deciding on what that question is to be. We have perhaps until the end of January to reach a conclusion, and must start now.

  • People’s Vote may well not happen or then stop Brexit unless we are seen to be determined to tackle the long term failures which gave rise to so much anger during the Referendum: – inequality; left-behind areas, industries and people; failed economic and political systems; manipulative politicians, media and big business; EU reform; absence of a cohesive and aspirational culture.

  • I agree with both the above comments. It would help immensely if Corbyn stopped messing about. The Greens have my vote for the foreseeable future given Corbyn’s attitude (after 50 years of voting for his party).
    Should a People’s Vote become reality then the legislation has to be much better than it was in 2016. The legislation then said the result was ‘advisory’ and this was confirmed at least three times in the H of C by ministers. But for some reason, they have taken the result as an absolute directive to go ahead and mess all of our lives up. They should also have had a clause that stated that a two-thirds majority was needed for change. They didn’t do this and thus the chaos since. The result was so close that it did not provide a clear mandate for anything. Had it been a 2/3 majority there would be some justification for the phrase ‘the will of the people’. But not with a 3.8% majority. Bound to lead to problems.
    It also worries me that there could be the same tampering with the process. Nothing has been done, it seems, about the financial irregularities and Banks was allowed to put two fingers up to the Select Committee and get away with it. We probably do not know the half of it- Cambridge Analytica etc. The legislation for a People’s Vote would need to be much, much tighter. Makes me laugh when May talks about ‘undermining democracy’ and how terrible that would be. It was undermined right the way through the last referendum campaign!!
    Polly Toynbee referred to May as ‘stubborn, obstinate and pig-headed’. Well said, Polly.

  • Unfortunately both the PM and the leader of the opposition are ardently eurosceptic Corbyn will do everything he can to prevent a people’s vote so unless he can be somehow neutralised it will be difficult to get one off the ground.

  • It should clearly be on vote on real options, not a vote on more unicorns. The only real options are the one May has negotiated and Remain. All other options, including “managed” no-deal are just someone’s fantasy, with no evidence they could be achieved.

    It should be a simple, binary vote between the only two options on the table.

  • Actually, the PM was pro-EU before the referendum, albeit low key, and her decision to run for PM was taken in blithe disregard for the foreseeable difficulties ahead. I think she had visions of being Thatcher MkII. Um, well, that didn’t work, did it ? If there is another vote it should be a clear choice between the May deal and remaining in the EU. And instead of trying to scare everyone with the horrors of Brexit, there should be a concerted campaign to extol the advantages of being in the largest group of trading nations on the planet. The Brits have always been generally xenophobic and it’s about time they were made to understand that the continental Europeans are not baby-eating two-headed monsters but ordinary people just like them who want exactly the same things for themselves and their families. If we have multiple choices on the ballot paper, it will confuse people (especially the “leavers” !) and complicate the whole process. Keep it simple. But Article 50 will have to be extended/delayed/cancelled pro-tem.

  • Agree with much of the above and totally disillusioned with the quality of governance in designing and policy of the implications of the referendum. The Opposition appears ‘contented’ with a two week holiday at one of the most significant moments of the nation’s history…and then grants a Christmas present to the Government with the kack-handed remark of ‘stupid woman’ and loses his own integrity by denying it…when it was obvious to all with basic verbal observational skills what was really said.
    Given the dishonourable behaviour of this Government in arranging and subverting parliamentary business; in the event of a no deal becoming an outcome a contingency extra-parliamentary plan should be prepared to have maximum public impact in order to bring about a peoples vote. Typically this could include : inclusive public demonstrations with massive involvement of young people in university cities, lobbying of ethnic-based associations (eg Irish and Polish) and inter-generational opinion challenging such as ‘phone your granny/grandpa’); media exposure, facebook/linkedin/Twitter -based messaging, positive messages of Remain and practical disadvantages of Brexit including: loss of EHIC, responsibility for well-being of British expatriates in Europe and the need for staffing in care homes, NHS, agriculture, status of educational recruitment and the labour needs in the hospitality and agriculture industries. The musical and cultural life of the country will also be damaged. And worse of all the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities will be disproportionately affected. A Peoples Vote is mandatory to maintain social cohesion and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s prediction of the need for a decade to achieve reconciliation should be revised upward to being at least a generation….check on the wounds as the result of any civil war.

  • Dear Hugo
    In your article about the next steps for parliament, I would like to see a more radical stance from MP’s – this would be for the majority of the labour party and the 70 + conservatives to resign their whip, and form a large pro-EU coalition. In my view this needs to happen sooner rather than later. This grouping would then and only then have the strength and conviction to force an election before the 30 March with the sole purpose of withdrawing Article 50 (or delaying Article 50 with EU consent, of course) to have a new referendum.
    Like many who work honestly for a living a Brexit deal or no deal is an existential threat to our livelihoods and the financial stability of the UK.
    This surely has to be the next step? If it isn’t I would really like to hear your opinion about this.
    Seasons greetings

  • NJ says he wants “the majority of the labour party and the 70 + conservatives to resign their whip, and form a large pro-EU coalition.”

    This is, I am afraid, another unicorn because it seems that there are few if any MPs who are prepared to put the National interest above a combination of personal and party interest. How many of them actually have the vision and the integrity that we should expect from them?

    One MP wrote a few months ago that he sees his role as “to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit”. How pathetic is that? How self serving.

    Go on you lot – do what is really believe is in the best interests of the country.
    I dare you.