The Conservatives should offer a second referendum – but not just yet │ Alex Simpson
Since the triggering of Article 50, Parliament has done everything in its power to prevent the UK from leaving the EU. Those who voted to start our departure have since backed calls for a second referendum (in order for remain to win), continuously voted against the only way of leaving the EU with a deal (through the Withdrawal Agreement) and have now voted for a bill that means the government can only leave the EU without a deal if parliament actively votes for it – something there clearly isn’t the numbers for. The calculations by commentators such as Henry Newman, and by his former boss in the cabinet Michel Gove, are right – in a straight vote between revoking Article 50 and leaving without a deal, the former would win. And probably pretty comfortably.
As a result of this backtracking over delivering Brexit, most notably from the Labour Party, whose two aims of not having a clear Brexit position (something their leadership wants but the vast majority of their MPs, members and voters do not), and forcing the government to implode means they will never vote for the deal. In combination with the Spartans on the Conservative benches, there aren’t the votes for the Withdrawal Agreement to ever get through – even if a General Election was called there probably wouldn’t be either.
The “Labour Leavers” that the Conservatives have been desperate to get across to vote for the deal will never come. And the Conservatives have to accept it by now. Those in northern, working class towns know they will never lose their seats to the Conservatives in a General Election due to the association with Thatcher and the deindustrialisation that occurred, and can therefore vote in line of the Labour policy – we want to deliver Brexit, but we will not do anything to enable this.
Labour have said though, as well as the TIGs, that they would vote for the Withdrawal Agreement if it was put to a People’s Vote. This belief is where the government should capitalise, but not in the way these two parties present it.
The government should offer the Labour Party and Change UK a referendum, but not this year to try and get only the divorce through, before the discussion over who gets what records. I actually think the Withdrawal Agreement (as it stands) against Remain has a chance of winning – with a Customs Union attached it definitely doesn’t.
Instead, the referendum should be offered at the end of the negotiations with the EU on the Future Relationship, when we have confirmed what our relationship will be on Security, Science, trade and all the other areas in which we are heavily bonded.
This works for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gets the Withdrawal Agreement over the line and into law, so we have finally left and the Conservatives can get back to focusing on the domestic agenda that has been sorely lacking since 2017.
Secondly, Labour can accept it as it allows their fudge to continue – they can say they’ve voted for Brexit (as was in their 2017 manifesto), but have also secured the Second Referendum they agreed at their Party Conference.
It also ends the arguments of a blindfold Brexit – the vote will be clearly on the deal the government have got, so everyone will be able to understand what will happen as a result of Brexit, and can see where there will be continuity and change. It also gives Dr Liam Fox enough time to have some trade deals lined up as well to help sell the new relationship further.
There are positives for the Brexiteers too. They will take charge of the second phase of negotiations after the inevitable leadership election and can get the deal they want, rather than one Remainers are after. As well as this, if during the time period the EU continues to integrate further, then it will make their argument in this later referendum easier. The option of leaving with a good future relationship, or staying in the United States of Europe where we have to be in the Schengen area, accepting the Euro and a European Army, whilst also losing our veto makes the former a lot more attractive.
As well as this, for the Conservative Party in general it helps to kill the momentum UKIP and the Brexit Party have been gaining recently.
Finally, for the DUP, it enables them to continue to have leverage over the government. If a General Election is forced, there is the real possibility the IRA-loving, pro-Irish unification Jeremy Corbyn gets into power, which is their worst nightmare. On the other hand, there is a slim chance that the Conservatives get returned with a majority – which kills their influence on the government. Why blow up having more power than you’ve ever had when at the end of the day, if the negotiated deal is so bad you can just campaign for remain, as they said they would do if anything threatens the union.
If you actually want Brexit to happen, rather than just wanting something more to complain about, then this is probably the greatest chance you are going to get of it happening. The current issues in Parliament over the divorce will most likely be similar to the issues when the government tries to pass the future relationship through parliament as well – once again increasing the chances of remaining.
So then, whilst a Second Referendum does contain risks, this option is the path of least resistance for all parties. Those who want a second referendum get one; those who want Brexit have the time to deliver the best deal they possibly can, with the EU’s further integration increasing Eurosceptic support; the DUP continue their leverage over the government, and there will be no arguments over a “blindfold Brexit”.
It can also be legitimately argued that for something so revolutionary to the contemporary British political system, it does make sense that people should be allowed a say to confirm something so serious. And by having a Second Referendum on the future relationship, there will be no doubts about what Leave means, and what Remain/Re-join means – both options will be far clearer than they were in 2016.