“I am very unhappy that the UK is leaving and maybe it would be better to make another referendum”. While the British Prime Minister has expressly ruled out a rerun of the 2016 vote, Andrej Babis, the Czech premier, seemed this week to embody the heedless spirit of the forces that have conspired systematically to stop Brexit at all costs.
Forget the fact that 17.4 million Britons voted Leave in a clear in/out referendum – the Czech PM’s view was: I’m unhappy, so it has to stop.
This worldview is is the political basis for an organisation calling itself the ‘People’s Vote’. Launched in April, prominent members of the group include Blairite MP and potential future leader of something, Chuka Umunna, Tory arch-Remainer Anna Soubry and the prominent Europhile peer and has-been politician Lord Adonis. Anti-Brexit celebrities have used their platforms to get airtime for the cause, most notably actor and former USS Enterprise captain Patrick Stewart, business owner Gina Miller, former England star Gary Lineker, and Baldrick. Solemn and weighty voices indeed.
This identity parade of centrist, consensus-era politicians, TV presenters and actors does rather play into the establishmentarian stereotype of Remainers that Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave so brilliantly managed to exploit in the 2016 campaign. When will the Stop Brexit team learn that lecturing the public about politics and implying the ignorance of the electorate has the opposite of the desired effect?
However, the People’s Vote is far from a tantrum-throwing irrelevance. The Europhiles are not known for taking ‘No’ for an answer, and only this week it emerged hat the pressure group is lobbying Labour to adopt a second referendum as official policy this conference season. If it can achieve that, it will have gained the traction it needs in the mainstream party political process to gain oxygen in the new cycle, and it’s media presence will growl.
The People’s Vote have recently published a report detailing the polling that represents what passes for a moral justification for a rerun that will help get them the result they want, as well as practical strategies for navigating parliamentary procedure to get the House of Commons to back a second vote. They detail six potential pathways to achieve their goal:
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- If the government strikes a deal with the EU, MPs could force an amendment which if passed would make the deal conditional on a second referendum.
- If the government’s motion on a deal is lost, or if there is No Deal, then they must issue a protocol on how to proceed. This opens up a window of opportunity for MPs to force a second vote.
- If the government motion on the deal is passed, it will have to then be ratified by an Act of Parliament. MPs could introduce an amendment to the bill calling for a plebiscite.
- The Prime Minister may realise that she can’t get her deal through Parliament, and call for a second referendum.
- If the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected by Parliament, she may call for a referendum on whether to leave with No Deal.
- A ‘People’s Vote’ could be legislated for by Parliament following a snap election, if there was majority support.
The People’s Vote campaign is clearly highly organised and lavishly funded, and will seek to take any opportunity possible to get the public back to the polls. Their rhetoric is cynical and anti-democratic; the very notion of the need for a ‘People’s Vote’ implies some significant deficiency in the 2016 referendum result, other than it being the wrong answer in the eyes of Remain-backing elites.
In an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, Matt Kelly, clashing with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, claimed that the people didn’t know what they were voting for, and disingenuously asked Farage ‘what are you afraid of?’ Morgan pointed out that a Deal vs Remain contest would incentivise the EU to present us with as bad a deal as possible, but given the boost this would give Remain in a second vote, from Kelly’s point of view a shoddy offer to Britain would be ideal.
The public should feel insulted by this. The real strategy of the People’s Vote is to get a question to the public that does not include a clean Brexit – their report details multiple possibilities for a new referendum question, but the one supported by most of their number seems to be the government’s deal vs remaining in the EU.
In short, in spite of their posturing as defenders of democracy – to use their PR slogan, “democracy didn’t end on June 23rd” – their true aim is to strip the public of the right to a full Brexit, instead offering them a sleight-of-hand, Hobson’s Choice poll. When pressed on this move by the Good Morning presenter, Kelly was brazen, insisting that the denial of a real choice to the public would not be his fault. In moments where he lost his temper his pro-democracy veneer evaporated, with Kelly instead resorting to a mere restatement of his own view – namely, that there will to his mind be “no benefit”. After all, freedom and sovereignty are mere useless abstractions.
The polling may have shifted on Leave vs Remain, but 1. polling is famously unreliable (look at the 2016 result!) and 2. given the shambolic conduct of the negotiations, it’s hardly surprising that Brexit isn’t looking great in the eyes of the public at this stage. But the fact of the matter is, Britain is yet to leave the EU, and it will still be in a state of transition until 2021. Kelly says that we “don’t know what Brexit looks like” – but that’s exactly the point. If he and People’s Vote get their way, that will be a picture that is never seen.
Supporters of a second poll say that after a general election we have the chance to vote again if we don’t like the government we get. But therein lies the rub: we get to look at what an incumbent party does for 4-5 years before voting again.
With Brexit, actually leaving the EU has not even been tried yet. Of course, this is exactly what People’s Vote want to avoid – if they can exploit the chaos of the leaving process and stop the Brexit plane before it leaves the ground, they may be able to kill it off forever. What’s more, they’ll be able (falsely) to claim “Look – we tried it, it failed.” In contrast, if in 5-10 years’ time the world hasn’t ended and Britain is thriving outside the EU, holding a vote to rejoin will look more than a little mad.
The British people voted by a clear margin to leave in 2016. If the first referendum result was not binding, then why would a second be any more so? Or a third? How many votes would be necessary to satisfy the ‘People’s Vote’ crowd – best of five? Or keep going till they get the answer they want?
Moreover, the electorate voted overwhelmingly for parties that declared their commitment to honour the referendum result in 2017. Gina Miller’s legal challenge to the Article 50 process claimed to be defending the sovereignty of Parliament. But now Parliament has voted for Brexit as well as the people. Now both hurdles have been cleared by Brexiteers – what more do they have to do to prove they have won the argument?
Britain’s Remain-supporting establishment are cloaking themselves in the language of democracy, but they are motivated solely by one thing – to frustrate the Brexit vote. If they’re wrecking strategy succeeds – which is likely, if May is unsuccessful in Salszburg and the country is faced with a No Deal / Remain dilemma – then faith in British democracy will be shattered forever, and the trust of the voters will be broken. It won’t be recovered.