We don’t need to kick out Tories to stop Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 14.02.2018

Theresa May’s former chief of staff claimed last week that pro-Europeans are plotting to bring down the government. You can see why Nick Timothy promoted this idea in his hatchet job on George Soros in the Telegraph. He wants Tories to rally behind an embattled prime minister, even if they think she’s botching Brexit.

But we don’t need to kick May out of Downing Street to stop Brexit – and that shouldn’t be our aim either. Much the best way of stopping Brexit is via a referendum on the final deal – and we don’t need an election or even a new prime minister to get that.

We will only get a referendum on the final deal if the voters want one. And if public opinion – which is already warming to the idea of a final say – shifts decisively in favour of having another vote, it will be unstoppable.

There would then be several scenarios. One would be for May, who voted Remain, to back a referendum on her own deal. She could stay neutral in the fight, unlike David Cameron did in the last referendum. Although she’d probably still have to hang up her boots after the vote – whichever way it went – she wouldn’t be humiliated.

Another would be for some future Tory leader, in the event that May is kicked out in the coming months, to back a referendum on the final deal in his or her leadership campaign. Even Boris Johnson might like the idea if it allowed him to become prime minister. He could offer it to secure the support of soft Brexiters in his party.

The foreign secretary could even say he always backed the idea of two referendums. After all, his Telegraph article coming out in favour of Brexit in early 2016 had the title “There is only one way to get the change we want – vote to leave the EU”. What was the point of saying that if he didn’t think there could be circumstances where we might stay in the club?

Yet another scenario would be for Parliament to insist on a referendum when the government presents its deal, to check that voters really wanted to leave when they knew what Brexit meant.

Surely the government would then fall? Not at all. This would only be the case if May made it a vote of confidence that there shouldn’t be a referendum. But, if public opinion had by then shifted decisively in favour of a referendum (the premise for there being such a vote in the first place), it would be silly to make this a vote of confidence, as the Tories would then be triggering an election that they would be bound to lose.

The current government has done a lot of silly things but would it really commit hara-kiri? In such a scenario, far better to have the referendum and, if the public didn’t like their deal, find a new leader who could then put this whole Brexit malarkey behind them.

It is, of course, quite possible that the Tories will tear themselves to pieces in a leadership contest before then, and that we’ll then have a general election which they’ll lose. That too could stop Brexit – but only if Jeremy Corbyn comes off the fence about what he wants and that’s far from certain.

So pro-Europeans should keep their eyes on the main prize: persuade the people to demand a referendum on the final deal.

Update: the word “silly” was removed in the first paragraph and in the sub-head on 15 Feb.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “We don’t need to kick out Tories to stop Brexit”

  • Maybe it is more a case of Ultra Brexiteers unconsciously plotting to uncouple the Tory Government by making such excessive demands on them that they could only be met by fatally alienating Tory Remainers in Parliament.

  • This rather supposes a three question referendum being accepted by Parliament
    1. Vote for the deal negotiated with EU for leaving
    2. Vote to crash out without a deal
    3. Vote to remain in (on terms yet to be negotiated with EU)

    A two Q referendum (soft or hard Brexit) will never be acceptable to all parties

  • Speaking personally, I don’t want another vote. I just want to Exit from Brexit. Obviously ideally we’d just stay in the EU, but EFTA looks like a compromise that technically allows the government to deliver on the referendum result whilst not wrecking the economy, peace in Ireland or creating a horrific cliff-edge for everyone.

  • Personally I cannot agree with a second referendum soon even though I am a staunch pro european. A decision is a decision. However I would like our next destinatrion to be firmly on the fence. ie like Norway. From there if we don’t like the direction that the eu is travelling in we can push further away. Alternatively if/when we realise that its rather cold outside we can wriggle our way back in. What this means in practice is leave the eu , extend the “implementation period” and stay in the customs union/single market (or similar). Settle for that for now and revisit the question when the old codgers have died off and the kids have grown up.