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Analysis

Momentum is now with a People’s Vote

by Hugo Dixon | 19.10.2019

Boris Johnson is twice a loser. He has failed to get his deal through Parliament today and will now have to ask the EU for extra time, something he said he would never do.

After today’s massive People’s Vote march, momentum is with those pushing for a new referendum. When the Prime Minister tries to pass a law to ratify his deal, MPs will have a good chance to amend it to make it subject to a referendum – with the people having the option to stay in the EU.

But before that, the first question is whether Johnson will comply with the law that requires him to ask the EU to delay Brexit by three months until the end of January. He suggested in Parliament today that he would not, but his exact phrase “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU“ may be ambiguous.

He would be foolish to disobey the law. Not only will the courts then whip him into line. He will lose more support from moderate Conservatives, who are horrified at the prospect of the government undermining the rule of law. On the other hand, if he obeys the law and asks for a delay to Brexit from the current date of end October, he will have gone back on one of his strongest pledges and his credibility will be shot to bits.

The second question is what the EU will do when it gets the request for extra time. The other leaders are fed up with Brexit and would like the deal to go through. But equally, as Germany’s Angela Merkel told the European Council two days ago, they will not be able to deny us extra time if we need it. That said, it seems likely they will wait, perhaps until the week of October 28, before giving a definitive answer.

Scrutiny is our friend

So what will happen when the Prime Minister introduces legislation to ratify his deal next week? Pro-Europeans would be foolish to count their chickens. Oliver Letwin’s amendment today declining to approve Johnson’s deal until and unless legislation passes may have succeeded by 322 votes to 306. However, Letwin himself – and many MPs who were kicked out of the Conservative party last month – have said they will support the Prime Minister when the law is voted on.

That said, forcing Johnson to run the gauntlet of legislation has two benefits. First, it means that MPs and the media will actually get to scrutinise his deal. Hardly anybody has read the full texts so far.

As a result, the Prime Minister has been able to get away with pretending that he has done a better deal than he really has. For example, the BBC’s political editor didn’t challenge him when he made three misleading statements in an interview yesterday about what he had agreed for Northern Ireland. After a few more days of scrutiny, hopefully, he will be savaged if he tries such nonsense again.

Johnson has negotiated a pig of a deal, but he has covered it with lashings of lipstick to make it look pretty. As the days go by, the lipstick will drip off revealing the ugly truth beneath.

Second, the Prime Minister will struggle to keep talking out of both sides of his mouth simultaneously. He is trying to persuade hardline Brexiters in the Tory party to vote for his divorce deal on the theory that he will negotiate a really hard future trade agreement with the EU – or that we will crash out of its single market and customs union when the transition period finishes at the end of next year. At the same time, he is trying to convince Labour MPs and former Conservatives to support his divorce deal on the basis that the future trade agreement will be really soft.

Johnson has been able to keep this dishonest game up for a couple of days. But he will find it harder to dupe MPs as the days and weeks go by.

When all this becomes apparent, MPs may conclude that the only rational choice option is to put Brexit back to the people in a referendum. Nothing is in the bag. But today we have taken an important step on our long march to sanity.

Edited by James Earley

4 Responses to “Momentum is now with a People’s Vote”

  • The best march of them all today with one million people. Excellent atmosphere and some very powerful speeches, including a host of well known MPs from all parties. It was uplifting and positive. I think we gained momentum today. Michael Heseltine again outstanding at the end of the afternoon. Never thought I would be on the same side as Lord Heseltine but he is a true European.

  • The disgraceful sending of an unsigned photocopy to the EU when he should have obeyed the law and requested an extension is rather like the rude little boy who is told to apologise to his grandmother, and after a good telling off mutters “sorry” behind his back. Johnson revealing himself as more like Trump than he would ever believe – the main difference being that he was the recipient of a first class education and therefore has less excuse.

  • I had to miss the march as I was ill but followed the debate inside HoP. Keir Starmer was amazing and it gives me confidence that we have excellent minds like him, Joanna Cherry and Dominic Grieve on our side scrutinizing the rubbish that Johnson puts forward trying every trick in the book to leave without a deal.
    We need to support them as much as possible and hope they find a way to get a confirmatory Referendum on the table.