Source: Labour List UK
A fresh EU referendum would cause “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”, Theresa May will tell MPs today. The public vote would likely not help make progress, further divide the country and “say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver”. This is the main message the Prime Minister is expected to send (and the one No10 wants everyone to take away, seeing as it was pre-released) when she faces the Commons this afternoon after failing to secure any “reassurances” from the EU last week.
Apart from the fact that May really, really doesn’t like the idea of another referendum, which I think is a genuine objection of hers as well as deriving from a stubborn commitment to her failure of a deal, what can we learn from this? First, the Prime Minister wants to distract MPs from her EU trip flop, and will probably therefore engage in the debate beyond “please refer to my previous answer on that question”. Second, the ‘people’s vote’ campaign is being taken seriously, and we basically have confirmation from the PM herself that cabinet ministers have been pushing the idea of allowing “indicative votes” on all options including a fresh public vote.
Lastly, concerns about the reliability of her word aside, this means May might refuse to lead the country into another vote. She wants getting Brexit done to be her legacy, and she is famed for her dogged determination (often mistakenly interpreted as acting in the national interest) – but her opposition to this path is such that if parliament forced her hand, a resignation could be on the cards.
The likelihood of another referendum increases daily. This is incredibly awkward for Labour, spelling trouble for its precarious electoral coalition of Leavers and Remainers. The party could go down the route of 1975, when it suspended cabinet collective responsibility and let everyone go their own way – but what would Jeremy Corbyn campaign for? Not May’s deal, nor ‘no deal’. His first preference is his own alternative Brexit plan, and that can’t be on the ballot paper because it doesn’t exist. It’s difficult to grasp the absurdity of the situation we’re looking at, in which both main party leaders head up campaigns that they have fought for months to avoid.
Ideas are cropping up all over the labour movement. As noted by LabourList last week, Corbynite union chief Manuel Cortes and soft-left group Open Labour are pushing for a 1975-style special conference on Brexit. Former Labour MP Nick Palmer today writes for LabourList proposing a little-considered course of action involving an emergency Labour government followed by a general election.
As we saw on the Sunday shows, views across the party are as varied as they could be. While Andrew Gwynne told Andrew Marr that a motion of no-confidence wouldn’t be tabled by Labour until after the deal is voted down, Chuka Umunna – who wants to move on to the “other options on the table” as soon as possible – was there to sell the ‘people’s vote’. Sky’s Ridge on Sunday saw frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey deliver the leadership’s line (a no-confidence vote should only take place when it can win; Brexit should happen), before Kate Hoey played down the dangers of ‘no deal’ and said the UK shouldn’t pay the £39bn divorce bill. As the famous Brexit composite motion promised, all options are on the table.