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Analysis

5 answers to hard questions from soft Brexiters

by Hugo Dixon | 15.01.2019

Open Europe, a campaign group which back Theresa May’s deal, has put five key questions to those who back a People’s Vote. Here are my answers.

Why did you vote for Article 50 if you wanted a second referendum?

The People’s Vote started as a grassroots campaign. And while it’s true that many pro-European MPs voted to trigger Article 50, many non-politicians were warning of the risks of doing so. CommonGround, which I co-founded, was so worried that the government didn’t have a clue what it was doing that we launched a campaign called “What’s the Plan?” in December 2016 with a network of other pro-European groups.

How do you intend to get a second referendum?

First, MPs should reject the prime minister’s miserable deal – which is worse than our current deal in the EU and bears no resemblance to what Brexiters promised in the 2016 referendum.

Then, Labour is likely to back a People’s Vote, which is overwhelmingly supported by its members and voters. The party will first need to go through the motions of calling a vote of no confidence in the government – which will probably fail –  as its policy is to push for an election before seeking a new referendum.

Given that a number of Tory MPs and the rest of the opposition wants a People’s Vote, we’ll then probably have a majority in Parliament. If she’s wise, the prime minister will agree to push through the necessary legislation. But if she’s not, Parliament will take control and force it through anyway. MPs have already shown they are willing to flex their muscles when the government gets up to monkey business.

Either way, we’ll need to ask the other EU countries for an extension of the Article 50 process by a few months so we have time to hold a People’s Vote. All the indications are that they will give it.

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What should be on the ballot paper?

Staying in the EU should certainly be one option, as it is consistently backed by most of the population according to opinion polls. It’s also in the national interest.

Only specific, deliverable options should be on the ballot paper. The time for cake-and-eat-it fantasies such as Boris Johnson’s SuperCanadagilisticexpialidocious is over. We need to get serious.

The only deliverable Brexit option now on the table is the prime minister’s deal, miserable though it is. If the hardline Brexiters can’t come up with something fast that MPs can rally behind – and there’s no sign that they can – the choice in the People’s Vote will have to be between staying in the EU and the deal.

What should the franchise be?

There’s a lot to be said for letting 16 and 17 year olds vote, as they will have to live with the consequences of Brexit longer than older people. There’s also a lot to be said for ensuring that all Brits living abroad can vote. But, in practice, given that there won’t be much time, Parliament may decide to keep the franchise the same as it was in 2016.

Should the result of a second referendum be seen as final?

Yes. It would be a good idea to make the result of a People’s Vote legally binding – unlike the 2016 referendum, which wasn’t.

Open Europe has also put five questions to both the Labour Party and hard Brexiters. They don’t have any good answers. If MPs reject the government’s deal today, as they should, the only sensible way forward will be a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “5 answers to hard questions from soft Brexiters”

  • When I read “First, MPs should reject the prime minister’s miserable deal – which is worse than our current deal in the EU and bears no resemblance to what Brexiters promised in the 2016 referendum. “, I realise how delusional both sides of the Brexit debate are. Of course the Withdrawal agreement is ‘worse’ than the current terms of EU membership – what did you expect? The risk of crashing out without a deal means that you have to vote for the current deal which is actually just a document of intent. But at least it gives security to all parties concerned. Stop playing politics with people’s lives. Neither side is fit for purpose.

  • Unfortunately Infacts at times comes across now as silly and bigoted as the hard-brexiteers, abandoning it’s initial useful roles as a purveyor of facts and puncturers of myths.
    Lots of partial posturing here and lack of concern or depth about the bigger and more complex reality, but to take one, No Deal would need to be the referendum bahot paper, if it was to have any semblance of legitimacy.

  • Alexandra,
    Brexit was playing politics with people’s lives. Parliament will not allow the “No deal” scenario if it remains within Government to sort it. The real flaw in the WA is that it only defers the real decisions until some point in the future, when with the trajectory of the Conservative Party, May is replaced by someone even worse. I guess if there is another referendum “No deal” would have to be included. Whilst it might attract several million votes it could not win without a lot of trickery, as we are now well aware it’s promises as being fantasies