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Analysis

Good night for People’s Vote, but a long way to go

by Hugo Dixon | 27.03.2019

Tonight’s motion for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal got more votes than any other option debated by MPs. It also got more than the prime minister’s deal, even on its second attempt. But it still fell short of a majority.

So it was a good night for the People’s Vote. In many ways, it was quite astonishing progress given that the campaign was launched less than a year ago – at a time when many people thought we were dreamers. But we also have to realise that we are still quite a way from a majority.

The referendum motion got 268 votes. That compares to the 242 votes for the prime minister’s deal on March 12.

However, the referendum motion also had 295 votes against it – and the number would have been bigger if the Cabinet hadn’t abstained. Those voting against included 27 Labour MPs, who defied a three-line whip to back it. A further 18 of the party’s MPs abstained.

Part of the reason, no doubt, was that Jeremy Corbyn was vacillating until the last minute over whether or not to back the motion. He didn’t give the impression that he would crack the whip terribly hard – though one junior shadow minister Melanie Onn has resigned.

But we also have to realise that we still haven’t persuaded many Labour MPs that a referendum is the best choice. What’s more, only eight Tories backed the motion.

Part of the reason is that many MPs from both main parties have been clinging to the idea that there may be a majority for a softer version of Brexit. So long as they think that, some are unwilling to back a new referendum.

Tonight’s votes may help in that regard because all soft forms of Brexit got fewer votes than the referendum motion. A motion to stay in the EU’s customs union was, admittedly, a close second with 264 votes – and also had fewer votes against it.

But the Common Market 2.0 scheme, which had got lots of publicity before the vote, didn’t fare so well. It secured only 188 votes, 80 fewer than the referendum motion.

A new round of voting will take place on Monday. It is possible that some MPs who backed soft Brexit versions will then decide to support a referendum.

Meanwhile, the government may try to bring back its own deal for a third vote now that Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have said they will back it after the prime minister vowed to resign if it was passed.

On the other hand, with the DUP and some hardline Tory Brexiters holding firm against the deal, the chances of success don’t look terribly good. It’s not even certain that the Speaker will let Theresa May bring it back again after he re-emphasised today that significant changes would first be needed.

Whatever happens, the clock is ticking madly towards the new cliff edge on April 12. The top priority is therefore to ask for another, longer extension. Fortunately, the EU seems likely to be accommodating. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said as much this morning.

But the EU will only give if we ask. And the prime minister is unlikely to ask unless she is pushed. Making sure that she is should be the main focus for sensible MPs and ministers in the coming week or so.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Good night for People’s Vote, but a long way to go”

  • A final say is quite compatible with a soft Brexit option, it is not an alternative to it, so why would MPs reject a final say on this basis? There are really no good arguments against a confirmatory vote.

  • So why was a confirmatory referendum proposed as a motion for a vote by MPs? I thought it was not an option, but something to be added to any option(s) that gets through, eg TM’s WA.