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Analysis

Is May more open to a People’s Vote than Corbyn?

by Hugo Dixon | 12.03.2019

After MPs voted down her deal again, the prime minister mentioned a new referendum as one way forward. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t, despite backing the idea last month. Hopefully, the Labour leader isn’t backsliding.

Corbyn’s remarks are the only cause for worry in what was otherwise a fantastic result. Theresa May’s miserable deal was justifiably voted down by a huge majority of 149. Even she doesn’t seem to think it can be resuscitated.

MPs will tomorrow vote on whether they want to quit the EU without a deal on March 29. It looks like there will be a big majority against such madness, now that the prime minister has promised there will be a free vote.

It will be interesting to see how many MPs think we should charge over the cliff like the demon-possessed Gaderene swine in the Bible. May tonight seemed to be indicating that she would not be one of them, saying it could tear apart the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is still stuck in fantasy land. His new version of cake-and-eat-it is that we should leave the EU without a deal but not crash out. He seems to think the EU will help us cushion the blow by giving us a transition period if we refuse to sign May’s deal – an idea the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator described today as a “dangerous illusion”.

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Assuming Parliament votes against “no deal”, the focus will swing to Thursday’s vote on asking the EU for extra time. The issue now isn’t so much whether the UK requests an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period as how long it asks for and what reason it gives.

MPs should note that the spokesperson for European Council President Donald Tusk said tonight: “The EU27 will expect a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration.” This means a request for a “blind” extension without giving any reason at all is likely to be rejected at next week’s European Council.

The prime minister gave three possible reasons for extra time: to cancel Brexit, to ask the people what they want and to try to agree a different deal from the one MPs have just rejected. Corbyn mentioned just one reason: to agree Labour’s own unrealistic Brexit proposal.

There is clearly a rearguard action inside the Labour leader’s office to thwart the will of the party’s members, who were enthusiastic about his support for a new referendum. The concern is that these hardline Brexiters have captured Corbyn. The more charitable explanation is that he wants to have one more go at his own proposals before swinging firmly behind a public vote.

Whatever happens inside the Labour Party, Cabinet ministers such as Amber Rudd must make sure we do not crash out. That means insisting that the prime minister tables a motion on Thursday giving a credible justification for an extension. If May refuses to, they should demand a free vote. And if she denies them that, they should threaten to resign as they did two weeks ago.

We need extra time – and it must be for a purpose.

3 Responses to “Is May more open to a People’s Vote than Corbyn?”

  • I wonder how many of the ERG (Johnson, Cash, Braverman, Baker, Mogg, Francois, IDS, Rabb etc) will ‘expose themselves’ and vote for a no-deal Brexit? Then we will really know who the irresponsible ones are. Are we more likely to see abstentions, so they hedge their bets re getting blamed and ridiculed? I would not be surprised. It will be a very interesting vote.

    I have no idea what Corbyn is playing at. Anna Soubry said he was ‘pratting about’ not mentioning a second vote. He thinks he can get an election but a Labour victory is not a given, nowhere near. Time for his backbenchers to put the pressure on him again. Starmer spoke well last night. I wonder if his instinct is for a second vote but he is not coming clean about it.

    A second vote is the only way out of this terrible mess. If MPs cannot sort it out, then the public will have to do it for them.