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Analysis

May could become most powerful convert to People’s Vote

by Nick Kent | 20.11.2018

Theresa May is stuck in a cul-de-sac because Parliament won’t back either her deal or crashing out with no deal. Her only way out will then be a People’s Vote.

The prime minister knows that a chaotic no-deal Brexit would be her worst possible legacy. She has dedicated her life to public service. She would not do a David Cameron and walk away with the job undone.  

But renegotiating the deal is out – as Germany’s Angela Merkel made clear last week. So the only surviving option will be a People’s Vote.

It may feel like a defeat to the prime minister but it’s the way out she, the country and her party need.  

If we quit the EU next March, Brexit will dominate politics for the next decade. We will have at least two years until the end of the “transition period” that’s supposed to cushion the blow of exiting; and an unknown length of time before a long-term partnership can be agreed with the EU. The Conservative Party will spend the whole time fighting over who is in charge and what the final destination should be.

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By contrast, a People’s Vote would be a choice between clear options. Once it was over and the votes counted, the decision would stand. This is because the issue has proved so painful, so divisive and ultimately so insoluble, that no political party would want to reopen the issue. Far from a new vote leading to more division, it would bring closure.

And for the Conservatives, there would be hope that a party that has thrown away its reputation for competent government in the shambles of Brexit could begin to recover both its sense of purpose and its ability to deliver.  

The prime minister is renowned for her stubbornness – and this might suggest she will never change her mind. But beneath the hard veneer lurks a politician willing to compromise or change course if necessary.  

Think of how she said there wouldn’t be a second election, only to call one. Think too of how she has changed her tune on Brexit. Her deal breaks all her red lines: it keeps the UK in the customs union; means we will have to follow many single market regulations; gives the European Court of Justice the final say over many matters connected with Brexit; and accepts that we will pay at least £39 billion pounds and probably more like £60-70 billion to leave.  

Like the Tory leader to whom she is so often compared, Margaret Thatcher, May gives the impression that she never does a U-turn but is actually pragmatic enough to do so when it suits her. If MPs vote down her deal, a People’s Vote will be her only way out. She should then seize it with enthusiasm.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

8 Responses to “May could become most powerful convert to People’s Vote”

  • Yes, May gives the impression of being stubborn but she has conceded on endless promises that she made.

    The most important thing is that MPs vote this deal down. If they approve it, all hope is lost. Unfortunately, although opposition is strong at the moment, I fear that this will wane when ‘push comes to shove’.

    The ERG strategy is all bluff to get as much as they can, but when it actually comes to the vote they will fall in line. If they reject the deal, they know Parliament will commit to a People’s Vote and Brexit will be over.

  • I fear you are right Michael. Although Nick Kent’s article is eminently sensible and logical, and one wants to believe it, Brexit is not about reason or logic. Though based entirely on false premises it has gained a life of its own and the longer it goes on the more inevitable it seems to get, like a monster which grows in strength and before which opposition seems to evaporate, as you say.

    Nevertheless one must not give up and hope that Britain can somehow wake from the nightmare before it is too late, otherwise the conflict will go on interminably, like Kent says.

    The most important aspect however it that the EU must be protected, as an oasis of liberal democracy. Britain is a very sick country now and the strategy of amputating the diseased limb to protect the main body makes sense so far as the EU is concerned, hard though it may be on ourselves.

  • Reminder that it was a People’s Vote that got us into this mess in the first place. Holding another one a matter of weeks before crash out is a helluva gamble, especially if organising it involves studiously avoiding specifying the question in order to mollify the isolationists.
    If a parliamentary majority can be mustered for a referendum, it can be mustered to cut out the middleman and just revoke Article 50 before it’s too late.

  • Will-

    Agreed that parliament revoking article 50 without further ado is the ideal solution, if it is politically possible. We elect them to make considered and informed judgements on our behalf, not necessarily to comply slavishly with our opinions.

    Nevertheless putting it back to the people may be a more practical alternative in the current situation, on the premise being championed now by the BMA/BMJ, that informed consent is always necessary, whether for a surgical operation or a political decision as big as Brexit.

  • One reason why May might swing to Remain and a Peoples’ Vote is that she would then be true to herself and the detailed case for remain which she made to the Con Party shortly before the Referendum and repeated to an international meeting of Goldman Sachs just days before the Referendum.
    Would be a good moment also for her to come clean on Russian intervention, where Arron banks got the 8 million dollars he contributed to the Leave campaign and how it was spent. Of course, if there had been an open,honest approach to brexit we would have had an urgent and full enquiry and outcome long ago.

  • I feel ashamed. Ashamed, not because the UK’s future has become confused because a PM decided to allow a referendum for no reason, or because such racism has been expressed, or because of the result, or because the idea of European countries working together and encouraging peoples to get to kniw each other has been dismissed so arrogantly, but because the UK parliament and politicians have made a laughing stock of the country I care about because if its diplomatic abilities.

  • Colin-

    May has never been a true remainer, only wearing this hat temporarily when she estimated Remain would probably win. Before that she was championing the go- home vans, remember. After the Brexiters unexpectedly triumphed she rapidly morphed into an ardent Leaver, like the chameleon she is.

    May is not alone, many politicians want to back the winning horse – the upside to this is that the minute it appears probably that there will be another vote, many will quickly pile in behind the new bandwagon. Expediency and self interest is sadly more powerful than principle.

    It makes sense to be on the ‘right side of history’ but of course it depends on who writes the history books – if Brexiters keep winning the battles then our kids will learn in school about the heroic figures of Farage, Gove and Rees-Mogg and how they saved the country. It happened in Russia, it could happen here.

    That’s why we must keep fighting!

  • @ John King
    I also think the Brexit lobby like to portray May as a Remainer, but I can scarcely recall any quote of hers strongly endorsing EU membership.
    I think she has an obsession about blocking EU migration, and almost that on its own is why she’s so determined to push Brexit through. Her comment about EU migrants ‘jumping the queue’ will have lost her alot of goodwill and respect, not only amongst our EU fellow citizens.
    Wanting to go to a purely skills-based criteria for migration, flatly contradicts her stated wish of wanting ‘a close and special relationship’ with the EU post Brexit. The EU will interpret it as such also. She also seems not to care a jot about repercussions for British nationals who will now be robbed of their rights to look for work and settle in Europe.