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MPs tonight showed there is no majority in the Commons for a second referendum. An amendment tabled by new member of The Independent Group Sarah Wollastan MP, which pushed to extend Article 50 with a view to holding a second referendum, failed by 334 votes to 85. That’s a majority of 249 votes, but more importantly a comfortable majority of MPs. This is bad news for fans of the People’s Vote.
This is the first time the second referendum concept has been put to MPs since the Brexit crisis really began, and the result was decisive.
Despite mentioning the possibility that Labour would support a second referendum last week, and then forgetting to mention it altogether on the night of the meaningful vote (take 2) earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn whipped his party to abstain on the amendment today
The numbers in parliament don’t look good for a second referendum.
Pro-referendum Labour MPs had attempted before the vote to explain why they would not vote for a referendum – this time. A letter published and signed by 32 Labour MPs including Jess Phillips and Rachel Reeves, explained their reasons for abstaining on the amendment. Labour, or at least this part of Labour, are “deeply committed” to a second referendum, but “to win that vote, we need to win a vote in the House of Commons.”
“The best chance of that is via the so-called Kyle/Wilson amendment,” they said.
This amendment, which pushes for a people’s vote on May’s deal if passed, should be put to MPs sometime next week. If passed it essentially says that the House will accept May’s deal, on the basis that it is subject to a referendum.
The second referendum band have tied their hopes to Kyle/Wilson, but today’s shenanigans made for a humiliating spectacle for People’s Vote, who have loudly demanded a second referendum and then advised abstention when they got their first big chance to put it on the record.
The result is they ended up looking fearful and tricksy. And then the vote tonight confirmed that the parliamentary arithmetic is still not there for a rerun.
Assuming all 85 MPs who voted for the Wollastan amendment tonight will also support Kyle/Wilson when it gets a chance, and then adding the 32 signatories of the letter, and assuming the Labour front bench go for it too, it would still fall well short.
The government can breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve been given a little wiggle room tonight by this rare win and by the failure of the Benn amendment calling for a series of indicative votes. Referendum re-runners can’t say that the people’s vote has never been given a fair hearing in parliament. It has been, and it lost.