Is Commons majority for People’s Vote starting to emerge?

by Nick Kent | 10.01.2019

Twice in the last two days a cross-party coalition of MPs has defeated the government on Brexit. On Tuesday it was a largely technical issue relating to taxation after Brexit. Yesterday it was to ensure that the government does not delay a debate on alternatives if its deal with the EU is defeated next week.

Both votes show that a growing coalition of MPs is coming together, united in their determination to stop a no deal Brexit and for Parliament to take back control from government. In doing so, they make a People’s Vote more likely.

Perhaps the most ominous moment for Brexiters was a declaration on Tuesday by Nick Boles MP, the leading proponent of the so-called “Norway option”. Boles said he will “vote on any motion, on any amendment, on any piece of legislation, proposed by whomsoever in this House to ensure that we leave the European Union on March 20 with a deal or not at all.” Boles and his “Norway” supporters are not backing a People’s Vote yet, but the groundwork has been well and truly laid.

The MPs who made a stand on Tuesday, led by Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan, did so for a very clear reason. They wanted to send a message to ministers that there is no majority in the House of Commons for a no-deal Brexit. Their chosen vehicle was clause 89 in the Finance Bill designed to give the government powers to deal with taxation issues after Brexit. It is a largely technical measure and one that might never be needed. But it gave MPs an opportunity to show that the extreme Brexiters who want “no deal” do not speak for the majority in the Commons.

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One of its supporters, Oliver Letwin, told MPs that he wanted to show that if there was a majority in the House against a no deal Brexit, it would be possible to bring forward amendments of this kind every time the government sought to legislate to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.  He believed that MPs “will not allow a no-deal exit to occur at the end of March”.

The government duly lost that vote and 20 Conservative MPs, seven of them former cabinet ministers, voted against their party whip. This is the largest rebellion against the government that we have seen by those coming from a pro-European position. Losing the support of senior Tory backbenchers like Oliver Letwin, Michael Fallon and Nicholas Soames, who are more typically known for their loyalty than their rebelliousness, is dangerous for the government.

Yesterday’s vote could prove even more important. Despite an hour-long filibustering, in which extreme Brexiters tried to stop an amendment to the business motion tabled by Dominic Grieve from being voted on, it passed. These two votes taken together mean that ministers are no longer able either to control the business in the Commons nor to get through legislation that makes a no-deal Brexit possible.

Slowly, painfully and in many cases with reluctance, MPs are moving towards a People’s Vote. No doubt some will want a vote on a Norway-style agreement first, as Labour will want to try and call a general election, but in the end logic is driving MPs towards calling a new referendum. They are realising that there is no other way to resolve this crisis but a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

7 Responses to “Is Commons majority for People’s Vote starting to emerge?”

  • I’m so-so in favour of a new vote but there’s no guarantee that it would not simply be a rerun of 2016. Best to can the whole horrible mess and stay in.

  • I’d take a second vote, John but like you cannot see it being a a lot of fun. The remain side would have to come up with a much better strategy than in 2016. It is easier to pursue a negative argument rather than make a positive case for remaining. The myths and lies are still around. For example, the Southampton Echo had a huge front page banner headline saying, ‘Brexit bonanza for port of Southampton’ as if it was a FACT. It turned out they had been talking to Liam Fox and they reported what he said! But, you had to turn inside the paper to read the details. Headlines like this are dangerous soundbites. It is classic propaganda. Feed simple lines and do it often.
    Tim Martin is ‘touring’ his UK pubs to talk about ‘the benefits of Brexit’ and is telling his clients that everything is going to be much cheaper after 29 March ‘because 12,000 EU tariffs will be removed’. How does he know what is going to happen? Nevertheless, it comes across as a FACT and people believe it. All the best brains on the remain side such as Chuka, Hugo and Luke (both of this parish) Morgan, Justine, Starmer etc would need to put their heads together and PLAN a campaign with powerful arguments.
    I would rather have someone say (doubt if it would be May) that the whole thing is a mess and it is impossible to Brexit without causing immense damage to the UK. Therefore, the idea should be binned. Everyday I question how we have arrived at this crazy position and it makes me want to emigrate. What an arrogant, inward looking country.

  • William,

    I think you have articulated the points that I have been making on this site for some time – none of us actually know what will happen after Brexit.
    Your complaints about opinions being dressed up as facts are exactly what bothers me about the authors on this site. They are opinions and rarely facts!
    I happen to be one of those that has a positive outlook about life outside the EU, mainly due to the political freedom we will have as a nation to make change when required. I do however accept that there will be difficulties along the way. My main grievance with the 2nd vote advocates is that we have not yet had any change to justify another vote. I am also one of those that will be incandescent with rage if we are forced to stay in by those that accepted that triggering article 50 meant that the fall back position was leaving under WTO. I personally will never forgive them!

  • Peter, this is such a mess I am very concerned about the future of this country. I am a European, through and through, and have always seen the role of Britain as being a leader in Europe. It is after all the continent we belong to. It has been awful, however, watching British Eurosceptics carping from the side and making life difficult for the E.U. The day Farage told the European Parliament ‘they were not laughing now’ made me squirm with embarrassment. Our political leaders have failed us. Austerity has done huge damage and the politicians allowed the leavers to blame the E.U. There was no public clamour for a referendum in 2013 when Cameron caved in to the ‘bastards’. That is where my anger lies. A referendum to stick the Tory party back together opened a window of opportunity for all sorts, including racists.
    Now we are so divided, so stressed there is no way out, it seems. Whichever way it unfolds this country will be at war with itself for years. And all because Cameron caved in and was taken to the cleaners in a big red bus with a lie painted on the side. My anger has not abated. A crazy, crazy Cameron inflicted mess.

  • As a foreign National haring lived 30 years in the UK, the most grating thing for me was the sense of embarrassment when seeing a nation, reputedly balanced and cool thinking, demonstrate a complete lack of savvy, absurd incompetence, ridiculous xenophobia and an inexplicable wish to kick emerging ways of extremely useful cooperation in many fields into the ropes. A people’s vote opting to just stay in the EU would be a start to mend the smashed position of the UK within Europe.

  • Sadly, I agree with your assessment, Peter. Many of the British elite, however, are public school alumni who have arrogance flowing through their blood. They have no idea about every day life. They have just hammered the less well off with a drastic policy of austerity and at the same time deceived the very same people into blaming the EU. The referendum has set this country back by decades. Talk of a glorious future is a fairy tale. Absolutely no one can PROVE that life is going to be better outside the E.U. We are leaping from the known into the unknown. It is madness.

  • Whilst I would love to see that May’s plan B is to reoke A50 and remain in the EU, or see parliament assert its sovereignty and direct HMG to do so, I think that the rifts in the country will be best healed with a People’s Vote.
    It is right that the behaviour of the gutter press is a factor, but Leave cannot peddle the same lies twice, so what would they propose to justify the significant hit to GDP, living standards, jobs, public services and our international standing this time?

    It is interesting to note that Farrage has been fairly mute ever since his unlikely victory. Equally, the empty barrel of Johnson has been restrained of late…