Lib Dems and SNP should try a referendum before an election

by Hugo Dixon | 27.10.2019

An election only makes sense if MPs can’t agree to put Boris Johnson’s deal to a People’s Vote. It would be a mistake not to try for a referendum first.

The Lib Dems and SNP have come up with a proposal to get an early election. Rather than vote in favour of the Prime Minister’s motion under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, they want to amend the FTPA so that the election is fixed for December 9. (Here’s the text.)

This would stop Johnson rushing his deal through Parliament before polling day because there wouldn’t be enough time. It would also prevent him deploying a “bait-and-switch” strategy – getting MPs to agree to an early election on the basis that it will be held on December 12 only to switch to a much later date. (Unless the FTPA is amended, no date would be set in law for an early election and it would be left to the Prime Minister to advise the Queen when it should be held). 

The Lib Dem/SNP idea is interesting. But they are giving up the fight for a referendum too soon. After all, as the flaws in Johnson’s deal become increasingly apparent, the chances of persuading MPs to back a confirmatory referendum are rising. 

19 Labour MPs supported his Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) on its “second reading” last week. But the number may now be falling because Johnson is double-crossing them over workers’ rights. The government is planning to diverge from the EU on regulation and workers’ rights according to a leaked document obtained by the FT

Meanwhile, the number of “whipless” Tory MPs prepared to vote for the WAB may also drop because they rightly fear Johnson could crash out of the EU’s single market at the end of next year, even if his deal passes. The business minister Kwasi Kwarteng let the cat out of the bag yesterday by saying no deal “can’t be taken off the table”.

Many of these MPs had been hoping to force the Prime Minister to seek either a customs union with the EU or a longer “transition” to give more time for negotiations. But increasingly they realise that amendments to the WAB along those lines are worth little. After all, if Johnson wins a majority in an election, as he seems likely to, he could pass new legislation and tear them up.

If such Labour MPs and whipless Tories aren’t willing to support the WAB, they may swing in favour of a “confirmatory referendum” as the last resort option. The people would then have a choice between Johnson’s deal and staying in the EU. 

It would be a mistake to rush into an election before testing whether there is now a majority in favour of such a plan. If it failed, the FTPA could be amended, as the Lib Dems and SNP suggest, and an election held. 

The “rebel alliance” in Parliament is fracturing as a result of the Lib Dem/SNP move. A compromise along these lines might bring it back together.

Edited by James Earley

Categories: Brexit, UK Politics

6 Responses to “Lib Dems and SNP should try a referendum before an election”

  • The solution is evident. A coalition of opposition parties must agree to the following priorities: enusure A50 is extended such that a referendum can be held; agree that Corbyn be given first try at forming a GNU with the agreed objectives and a promise to stand aside if he can’t get enough votes to become caretaker PM; call vote of no confidence in Johnson and during the 14 day period form a new administration (under Corbyn or an elder statesman PM (clarke/Cooper)), the GNU calls a referendum of remain vs leave on a deal (Johnson of May). Armed with the decision of the electorate, the GNU dissolves itself to call fresh general elections with manifestos based on the definitive outcome of the referendum.

    No other scenario will resolve Brexit.

  • The polls are suggesting that 57 per cent now think that the referendum should never have been called. Better late than never for those who have just woken up. However, the Tories have a lead of 16 points over Labour, despite austerity and the lies they have told to plunge the country into this quagmire . Corbyn is the reason why. He lacks authority and charisma and is stained by anti-semitism. Despite the weakness of May he failed to lay a finger on her government. PMQs were painful to watch. Johnson walks over him in Parliamentary exchanges. JC is the barrier to a coherent coalition opposition. He is putting his own personal ambition first and he fails to see that he is now actually preventing any progress in this impasse. He needs to do what Dr Mike suggests or resign. I have lost all faith in JC and cannot forget that he is a long standing Eurosceptic. Old habits die hard.

  • For the avoidance of doubt I meant that all indications are that the confirmatory vote will not pass in this parliament.

  • There are currently not the numbers in Parliament tom achieve a Referendum. This is the Swinson line:

    There are currently two barriers to stopping Brexit.

    The first is Boris Johnson who has proven time and time again that he can’t be trusted.

    The second is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

    His party has time and time again backed Brexit. Just this week he failed to back a referendum in Parliament and allowed 19 Labour MPs to vote for the deal.

    To stop Brexit, we need to get Boris out of office.

    To stop Brexit, we need to increase the number of anti-Brexit MPs in Parliament.

    It’s clear that a General Election is the only way we can achieve both of those things.

    That is why we are going to introduce a Bill to amend the Fixed Term Parliament Act and hold a General Election on Monday, December 9th.

    Our Bill will only come into force if the EU offers an extension to at least 31st January 2020. The timetable also means that Boris Johnson cannot try to force his deal through Parliament again.

  • Let it be the case that a confirmatory referendum is to be be held before a general election.

    Assume that the tories boycott it and declare it democratically illegitimate. They won’t respect the result.

    Then in a general election afterwards the tories gain a working majority as the party that will implement the ‘will of the people'(the only true 2016 version). They press ahead with their Brexit caper, and the referendum would have achieved nothing.

    With a general election first, the remainer elite can work its wicked way with the British people and seduce that fine upstanding body of men and women into voting tactically, for the party that has the best chance of defeating the tories in each constituency.

    If Labour form the government even without an outright majority then their version of the withdrawal agreement with the EU will be put to the people. Assuming the people choose remain, Brexit is then cancelled (as any sane government that cares for the future of the U.K., let alone the future of our wider region, in today’s world would wish to do anyway), the government can move on, with the distraction of Brexit removed, to all the pressing but tory-neglected issues that need to be dealt with in this country. Membership of the EU was never a high priority in most people’s minds before the tories foisted their referendum on them and most people would be glad to see the back of this whole question.

    Also, in this election the tories can be characterised as the party that said before the 2016 referendum, “We will implement what you decide” and then spent three years not implementing it.

    They could have implemented it if they had honoured and respected the result. They kept having a go at other politicians for not honouring or respecting it. The way to honour and respect it was to take it for what it was: the score was 52-48. But it was not a rugby match, and all they had to do was go up to a podium and collect a ribbon-bedecked trophy. If you cut an orange in two and one half was 52% by weight and the other half was 48% then I doubt anyone could tell the difference. One honourable and respectful thing to do would have been to recognise, for example, that, while a perceived excess of immigration was a concerning factor for 52%, for 48% it evidently wasn’t, or if it was it was a problem that could be effectively addressed as an EU member. But no, the tories had to insist on their immigration red line of no free movement, which incidentally gives the lie to their pose as champions of freedom.

    If they had made a conscious attempt to accommodate the concerns of the 48% then they could by now have made good their promise ‘to implement what you decide’. They didn’t thereby demonstrating their political ineptitude and their unfitness to govern this great European country.

  • It is a bit disconcerting that a squabble seems to have broken out amongst the anti Brexit side, as only Johnson will profit from that.
    However, I think it’s Corbyn who is most to blame. He’s had many chances to come out against Brexit, but he has continually relegated it to 3rd or 4th item on his agenda, whereas a blind man can see it is the No 1 issue facing the country. And he always seems to find an alternative event to attend which clash with Peoples Vote marches. I would much prefer a Peoples Vote, but unless Corbyn comes out now in favour of one, and would vote accordingly in Parliament, whipping his MPs, then a Gen Election is probably the only alternative way of stopping Brexit.