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Analysis

People’s will has changed: we don’t want Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 27.05.2019

Don’t believe the lie that Nigel Farage’s success in the European Parliament elections means the people want hard Brexit. They don’t. But it still may be thrust down our throats against our will because we are about to end up with an extreme Brexiter as prime minister.

Farage’s Brexit Party came top of the poll with 32% of the vote. But otherwise, it was a dismal night for the Brexiters – and a fantastic one for pro-Europeans, especially the Lib Dems and Greens which collectively got more votes than the Brexit Party.

The Tories were savaged, getting only 9% of the vote, apparently their worst performance since 1832. UKIP was wiped out. And Labour got a good walloping. Voters finally saw through Jeremy Corbyn’s policy of fudge and ambiguity, giving his party only 14%.

If you add in the SNP, Change UK and Plaid Cymru, unambiguously pro-European parties got over 40%. The Brexit Party and UKIP together got just 35%. So the pro-Europeans are clearly ahead of the hard Brexiters.

If you add Labour to the tally of those parties wanting a People’s Vote and the Tories to those that don’t, the pro-referendum group is 10 points ahead – 54% versus 44%. The people’s will has changed. We don’t want hard Brexit. We don’t want soft Brexit. We want a new referendum – and we want to stay in the EU.

Hard Brexiter as PM

But that doesn’t mean we’ll get what we want.

The clear and present danger is that the Tories will pick a leader who will try to crash out of the EU without any deal. Whoever wins the prize will care more about stopping Conservative votes slipping away to Farage than governing in the interest of the country as a whole. Indeed, Boris Johnson, the frontrunner, was already drawing that lesson in his Telegraph column this morning.

There is little chance of stopping a hard Brexiter becoming Tory leader. But Parliament can stop them getting their way, contrary to a much-publicised blog from the Institute of Government last week. MPs have several ways to force the government to put Brexit back to the people, as my colleague Nick Kent showed in this article.

Corbyn is now facing intense pressure from his senior colleagues – especially Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson – to get off the fence and back a new referendum unambiguously. Yesterday he shifted further in the right direction. As more and more sensible Conservatives also realise that soft Brexit is no longer an option, we can probably get a majority in Parliament for a People’s Vote.

How to win a general election

There are also enough Tory MPs so opposed to crashing out that a hard Brexit prime minister may lose a no confidence vote. Several senior Conservatives, including Philip Hammond, hinted at this yesterday. A general election would then be on the cards. Indeed, Theresa May’s replacement might preempt this outcome and call an election themselves.

This is both an opportunity and a risk. Although pro-Europeans are in the majority in the country, our first past the post electoral system could still deliver a majority in Parliament to hard Brexiters – especially if the pro-referendum parties split the vote and compete with each other. It will be a racing certainty if the new Tory leader also reaches an electoral pact with Farage.

The pro-referendum forces must find a way of uniting. The good news is that Change UK, which took 3% of the vote in the European elections, seems to be getting the message that it needs to join forces with the Lib Dems.

But that won’t be nearly enough. The Lib Dems and Greens must also find a way not to split the vote. And ideally there should be some broader alliance with Labour, provided it finally comes off the fence.

One way of achieving this would be to hold primaries to choose pro-European champions across the country. The losers would endorse the winners – who would then have a great chance of getting elected. There would be no primaries in constituencies where the sitting MP pledged unequivocally to push for a referendum.

Achieving anything like this will be hard. There is so much tribalism in politics. But despite last night’s fantastic results, we are still looking down the barrel of a gun. It’s time for our leaders to rise above petty politics and put the national interest first.

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Correction: The total for the pro-referendum group was changed from 56% to 54%

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

11 Responses to “People’s will has changed: we don’t want Brexit”

  • No peoples minds have not changed, you can add up all the numbers you like to sway the stats in the direction you want them to go in. If we have another referendum and I dont like the result can we have another one?

  • The message in this article by Hugo must be sent out loud and clear to the public, as the right wing press is bound to shout that the election is a mandate for a no deal Brexit.
    I wonder whether Corbyn still has the confidence of the party membership. Could we see a Labour leadership challenge. Tom Watson would be a much better leader. He had more presence than Corbyn and would connect better with the general public while still pursuing an anti austerity and radical programme of reform. Unless there is something in the ‘rules’ preventing it, I am surprised that no one has mentioned it (not that I am aware of).

  • Re Andrew Marr 26 May
    I am not a Tory supporter, but Phillip Hammond seems to be the only member of that party that hasn’t taken leave of his senses. If anyone ,who has real power, to stop a Brexit without a deal/ People’s Vote, it is him.
    The castration of the Labour vote in the EU election, is totally down to position of JC & his puppet master McCluskey, both have done more damage to the country by facilitating continued Tory government, in the name of Stalinist rhetoric. Time to get rid of both & put Tom Watson in charge, a man who seems to have more common sense than most.

  • Agree totally with above. Corbyn must go. Would he campaign for remain? No, it would be against his principles. From previous experience though, dislodging him may be difficult.

  • This article makes perfect sense, but anything like the proposed process founders on the message conveyed in the final sentence. There seems to be little hope of that at this stage.

  • Throughout all this, the leavers have presented a common front. The remainers have been fragmented, q.v. the number of different movements both here and in the EU (ex-pats). they all need to come together and form a common opposition to Brexit. It’s the old story about united we stand, etc. If Parliament can dig its heels in and definitely vote down a no-deal Brexit and if the EU refused to renegotiate or give us more time (as Macron has said) then that leaves only one option – revocation.

  • Nick Kent did indeed argue that the Commons could prevent a no-deal Brexit, but some of his arguments were unconvincing. Opposition Day motions and emergency debates cannot force a Government to do anything, as he conceded (the latter do not even allow the Commons to express a view, unless the Speaker changes the rules). His other options depend on the Government doing something which creates the possibility of amendments. It can avoid having a Queen’s Speech for the foreseeable future, and can probably do without business motions unless it needs to pass legislation in a hurry. In theory the Government would need legislation to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, but can we rule out the possibility of a desperate Government not legislating (and perhaps even proroguing Parliament) until after 31 October and then seeking to pass emergency legislation? It will be harder to stop a determined no-deal Prime Minister, at least by parliamentary means, than Nick Kent suggests.

  • Much as I would like to believe that we can extrapolate the results of the EU election to a second referendum, much more caution is needed. The lower turnout for the EU election may not be representative of the wider electorate. What is the profile of those who did not vote? How does it differ from those who voted last Thursday? Almost certainly it will include some who are less committed to either remain or leave. Are they more likely to be convinced by the simpler message of leave propaganda. There are also those who, whilst remainers in head and heart, feel that their duty is to support the outcome of the 2016 referendum as a democratic duty.
    The emergence and success of the Brexit Party and the contrasting failure of Change UK could not be predicted just a few months ago. What might emerge in the few months leading up to a second vote? The situation is still far too febrile to look ahead with any real confidence.

  • Whilst support for the Pro Peoples Vote parties was encouraging, it did suffer from its fragmentation. (and the scandalous voting inelligibilty for many EU citizens in the UK and ex-pat Brits in Europe). The question is how that majority of voters , and the many businesses who are frantic to prevent a Hard Brexit, can be mobilised to form a common front against the Farage/Tory block.
    That won’t be easy as its understandable that established parties with democratically elected policies, are not easily going to give up their right to stand or even submerge their identities. The Greens clearly have a very much stronger profile on environmental policies. It may also be fanciful to think Labour would easily surrender its own autonomy to work more closely with the Remain parties, especially whilst Corbyn is there with his own agenda. The cynic in me can even see the benefits for Labour of allowing a Hard Brexit in order to profit from the fallout.
    Yet pro-Europe forces must work together if a Farage inspired Tory march to a Hard Brexit disaster is to be prevented. It should not be forgotten that the map of England showed consituencies predominantly shaded in the colour of the Brexit Party, and with the First Past the Post voting system, this would reflect seats at a General Election.

  • Not to mention the maths in this article are completely wrong. Torres and Labour Bon have leave manifestos. Even if you give labour a 60/40 split to remain leave still won the night clearly. The numbers can be spun however people like but it’s clear what happened if you want to see it.

  • What is so obvious is how damaging “-isms”, ideologies, are to realistically running a nation. Not only is the UK in danger of economic collapse but also in danger of breaking apart itself. Yet that awful Labour leader and much of his union supporters act as if preserving their ideas about their form of democracy is rather more important than just keeping the country they live in in some sort of good shape. The remain faction also is too fractured to be able to urgently react with impact when Brexiteer cowboys are going on the rampage, due to their -isms. Just what is it that let such people see someone like Farage unite his voters to a 35% bloc whilst remain is subject to the whims of three or four political leaders. None of whom have the sort of populistic vote manipulation powers that Farage has. Yet, the isms rule the politics in view of a looming disaster. When things in the end go wrong Labour voters have to take the blame as much as Tory voters do, and remain must accept that they never were able to decisively get their message across and mobilize their voters that way.