With the UK parliament essentially deadlocked on the topic of brexit, it has meant the idea of a 2nd vote and tossing the decision back to the people, is now a possibility. Polls show this is increasingly seen as the actual “will of the people”. So I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss the matter.
Brexit means….deadlock & chaos
Firstly the issue for Theresa May is that she doesn’t have a majority in parliament to back her plans. There’s about 14 or so pro-EU Tory MP’s who will not vote for anything that they know will mean leaving the customs union. At there other extreme there are 80 MP’s in the hard brexit camp who also won’t vote for anything that leaves the UK tethered to Europe in any way shape or form. She needs the DUP to support her, but once they realise her pandering to the brexiters will inevitably mean a hard border in Northern Ireland, they’ll likely flip.
Normally this would be the perfect opportunity for the opposition to step in, table their own bill knowing that the rebels on the other side of the isle will support it. But as a further spanner in the works, 4-5 labour pro-hard brexit MP’s will vote against their own party. And while this is naturally pissing off the largely pro-remain rank and file party members, Corbyn isn’t doing anything to reign them in….largely because he’s also a hard brexiter, its just he can’t vote with them because A) he’d be rebelling against himself and B) His own red shirts in momentum would skin him alive.
Should you be doing your sums and you realise we’re about 7 MP’s short, ya that would be Sinn Fein. They could easily break the deadlock, swinging the UK towards a soft brexit and avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. However, they are refusing to attend parliament. In doing so they demonstrate that they, like so many populist parties, are about as useful in a crisis as tits on a mule. When the going gets tough, the populists get going….as in they run in the opposite direction!
Either way, May can’t deliver on either a soft or a hard brexit. Now the brexiters seem to think this is a good thing, as it will mean a hard brexit by default. However, as I’ve pointed out before, its more likely that we’ll get the EU’s backstop option (a worst case scenario for the brexiters) or an open ended, so called “blind brexit”.
May has enough votes to possibly force through such an option at the 11th hour, although it would probably split both her party and labour in doing so. In any event this would be the sort of situation where she could just agree to one of the backstop options without consulting parliament (they’d have to vote in an alternative agreement that was acceptable to the EU, in the absence of that, whatever the PM decrees stands). Of course at this point it would be the brexiters clamouring for a 2nd vote. Although oddly enough many of the brexiters are on record as wanting a 2nd referendum (be it on the terms of brexit or to just keep people voting until they got the result they wanted, remember they originally assumed they’d lose).
That said, I’d be wary of those who say that a no deal brexit won’t happen. Avoiding a no deal requires someone to volunteer to be the grown up in the room, and there’s no guarantee that will happen. While there’s not much Jeremy Hunt has ever said that I agree with, his warning of a no deal by accident is a possibility.
And while we’re on the subject, could someone in the leave camp explain to me how anytime a remainer (before the referendum or since then) talks about the risk of economic chaos in the event of a hard brexit, its project fear. But when brexiters start planning for how to handle such chaos, its called preparing for an orderly brexit. Or how May being forced to go cap in hand to the French and beg them for help is the UK taking control !?!
Adding into this mix is the questionable nature of the previous referendum. In most European countries you’d need a 50% majority of the entire electorate to do something this radical (leave only got 37% of the electorate, about 27% of the adult population….that’s what counts as “the will of the people”). And as we now know the leave campaign broke the law. Not only have they been fined by the electoral commission, but they’ve been referred to the police for further investigation (meaning we could see politicians prosecuted).
And since we’re talking about it, the illegality of the referendum is seriously eroding UK democracy. We now have reports of cash for access being offered to US business tycoon’s in relation to any future US/UK trade deal (do honestly think that deal will serve the needs of the masses or rich?).
But I digress! One thing to consider about a 2nd vote is that the UK might have already left the EU before it can occur. Given its findings the electoral commission have recommended at least a 6 month delay for them to stop the leave camp cheating again put in place measures to ensure a fair vote. So even if parliament passed such a bill when it sits again in September, that would leave insufficient time, unless the article 50 deadline is extended, which it might not be, as certain EU states (Hungary and Italy) want the UK to leave the EU (so when they jump they can aim to land on the UK’s corpse to cushion the fall).
An important consideration is what question gets asked. Last time it was way to open ended. This meant that the leave camp could sell their have cake & eat it fantasy. They could literally promise to end freedom of movement, stop all payments to Brussels, yet remain in the single market (positions that are incompatible) all in the same sentence.
And this was not just the brexiters being stupid or idiotic. As they’ve admitted in their post-referendum boasting, it was a deliberate tactic. Back during the Scottish independence referendum, in order to promote and honest debate the SNP (perhaps naively) published their plans for an independent Scotland. Inevitably those plans got picked apart by the opposition. I was minded to support independence, but picked a few holes in their proposals myself. But I also recall pointing out that, flawed as the SNP’s plans were, they were still more sensible that anything proposed by the brexiters (hence why a yes vote would have saved Scotland from a hard brexit).
Well the leave camp learnt the lesson of the indyref, so they intentionally went out of their way to kill the debate and focus on largely minor issues, such as fish, bent bananas or EU regulations. And they gish galloped out their land of milk and honey promises, knowing that the remain camp (and the media) would struggle to counter so many lies told in such a short period.
So it would be essential that leave is tied down by asking the right question and being clear to the public that their decision would have consequences. A sensible tactic would be to have a two tier voting system. First question, about leaving or remaining in the EU. The second (and possibly third question) about the single market, freedom of movement, customs, etc.
So for example it would be made clear (and I would put it on the ballot paper) that if you vote leave, that means you are leaving, you are no longer an EU citizen, you lose all the right that gives you (which means more paperwork next time you try to travel to the EU). Ending freedom of movement would mean no single market access, with knock on implications to industry and it would automatically trigger a border poll in Northern Ireland (forced to choose between reunification or remain in the customs union) and possibly in Scotland too.
Justin Greening suggests having three options, remain, a soft brexit or a hard brexit. I’d worry about that splitting the remain vote (or equally the leave vote). So it would only work if you had some sort of system to eliminate the least popular option, then transfer the 2nd preference votes to the other.
However that in itself highlights the problem. If the brexiters are setting the question they will do nothing of the above. They just want the public to sign the suicide note and let them drive the bus off the cliff. They’ll likely leave it at two questions and make them “Do you want to remain a slave of Brussels with hoards of migrant coming over to steal your jobs and bring knife crime from Romanian Gypsies in hoodies?” or “do you want to see the glorious British Empire 2.0 rise while unicorn’s frolic in fields of wheat, the rivers flow with milk and honey, while money rains from the sky”.
The ponzi factor
So given that we know the leave camp lied (by their own admission), that they cheated and broke the rules, that they clearly haven’t got a clue what they are doing and the effects of brexit are already evident (78% of people think brexit is going badly), you’d think it would be a slam dunk for the remain camp. Worst case scenario a narrow vote for a soft brexit, but more likely than not a strong vote for remain. Well think again.
As comedian Henning Wehn pointed out, a lot of leave voters will vote leave again, simply because by voting remain they’d be admitting to themselves and their peers that they were wrong the last time and their ego just can’t take that hit. Its a phenomenon I’ll call “the ponzi factor”.
A key part of any con is to get the mark to emotionally commit to it (e.g. by allowing them to easily make a small amount of money). Indeed its interesting to note how much of the language of the brexiters is very similar to what you’d hear from a con artist (“believe in Britain” or “save brexit” etc.). The objective here is two fold. Firstly it reduces the chances of the mark backing out of the con when the inevitable cracks start to appear. And secondly, it reduces the chances of them running to the cops after being fleeced (either because they still believes in the con, or are too embarrassed to report it).
Charles Ponzi was the master of this. At one point he prevented a run on his company by simply going outside and handing out sandwiches and coffee to those waiting to withdraw their money, which convinced many of them to go home. Even at his trial some of the marks who he’d fleeced testified in his defence. Many hung onto his share certificates conceived that it was all just a witch hunt against him by the establishment and that he’d get out of prison, make back his money and pay them off. Such is the power of myth.
So I’d expect that a minimum of 40% will vote leave in some shape or form again.
The insurgent campaign
So it looks bleak for the remain camp, the brexiters are guaranteed a large block of votes regardless and they get to pick the question asked and the timing of the vote (and they’ll pick a time that is as likely as possible to lead to a low turn out of remain voters, e.g. in the middle of uni exam weeks). However, there are a few factors in the remain camps favour. Firstly demographics, as hundreds of thousands of leave voters have died, while there are many newly registered voters who would now back remain.
Also there is what I’d call the insurgent factor. A lot of people who voted leave did so for one reason. They hated Cameron, the political establishment and his policy of austerity and wanted to give him the two fingered salute. However, with all of the major parties now likely backing leave (including Corbyn) that turns things on its head. A lot of this voting block might well shift to vote remain, just to piss off the government.
It is for these reasons I’d argue that a successful remain campaign must be an insurgent anti-establishment campaign. Its main theme will be that the politicians don’t have a clue what they are doing, they’re using brexit as a political football to further their careers and push through an a agenda that benefits only the rich. Meanwhile the country is going to pot, the railways are in a mess, the NHS is on life support and austerity is pushing whole towns into poverty. The only solution is to wipe brexit off the political agenda so that parliament can be forced to focus on more important matters (which would require a strong remain vote to settle the question for a generation).
As a result I would propose putting a non-politician in place as the “face” of the campaign. Radio host James O’Brien or anti-brexit campaigner Gina Miller would be among my picks. Or perhaps a comedian like Marcus Brigstocke or Al Murray (aka the pub landlord). Why? Because we tried winning on facts and figures last time, that didn’t work. So I’d go for humour and satire to make the brexiters look stupid.
And I won’t hold back from attacking the EU itself during the campaign. Its not a perfect institution, its just the alternatives are so much worse. Last time around the leave camp would for example point to Greece or the undemocratic nature of some EU institutions and then the remainers would try to defend the indefensible . While my response would be yes that’s terrible, but how exactly is leaving the EU going to change that?
And I’d argue in favour of getting personal. Brexit is to trust the brexiters with the UK’s future. And as events have shown, they can’t be trusted, I mean they can’t even agree a plan amongst themselves. So it would be worthwhile to highlighting the obvious hypocrisies of the brexiters. They want the rest of the UK to have brexit, while remaining in the EU themselves. For example, lord Harmsworth (owner of the Daily Mail) is a French tax exile. That another leaver Nigel Lawson has recently taken up French citizenship, that Farage has an EU pension (and probably a German passport), Paul Dacre is also feathering his nest (outside of the UK!) and Ress-Mogg’s hedge fund has not only got assets in the EU (in particular Ireland), they’ve been increasing their share of those assets the more likely a no deal brexit becomes (which clearly shows how much they “believe in Britain“).
A few choice quotes from the brexiters would also help e.g. Boris’s “fuck business” would be something I’d post prominently near a few factories vulnerable to brexit. Mogg’s proposals to dismantle the NHS end all benefits and turn the country into a tax haven (should do well placed near a hospital or a benefits office!). And a few ironic posters won’t go amiss either, e.g. contrasting that £350 million promise with the reality that the NHS is short on nurses and country is having to stockpile medicines.
And speaking of Boris, should you need proof of how bias the media is, consider how they are sticking it to Corbyn over anti-Semitism (not that there isn’t a problem here that needs addressing) yet they ignoring worse from the likes of Boris Johnson or others in the Tory party directed at Muslims.
Inevitably immigration will come up. My solution, would be point out that we now have a pretty good idea of how post-brexit immigration will pan out. And, much as was predicted prior to the referendum numbers show a sharp decline in those coming in from the EU (mostly only coming over temporarily to work, before returning home) being cancelled out by increasing numbers coming in from outside the EU (who tend to be coming here permanently). In short leaving the EU isn’t really going to change anything, in fact it could lead to the worse of both worlds.
A successful remain campaign could have many benefits. Firstly it would obviously mean the UK remaining in the EU. However, I suspect there won’t be too many champagne corks flying in Brussels (truth be told, they’d rather be shot of the UK!) as they’d be aware of getting back a more emboldened UK. This could serve a as a precursor for real change in how the EU functions.
The consequences for the Tory party would be dire. My guess is they could not survive a 2nd referendum intact, even if they win. The odds are the party will split, with the centrists and hard brexiters forming separate parties (one of which will still be called the Conservative party). Its possible the hard brexit wing would eventually then merge with UKIP to form a far right party.
The labour party could also split. Basically, a successful remain vote would spell the end for Corbyn and his small faction of “muesli brexiters”. They’d likely be forced out and eventually find their way into some hard left party. Or, in some cases, notably Kate Hoey, join UKIP. This would actually be to the benefit of the labour party, there’s plenty of possible candidates with a good shot at becoming PM, including several from the left wing of the party. And with the Tories in disarray, the odds of labour winning a subsequent election are high.
On the other hand, a 2nd leave vote, particularly one that Corbyn backed would split the party in half. Those on the centre left or the Blairites would quit, possibly merging with the centrists from the Tory party to form a new centre ground party (which means a labour majority government becomes essentially impossible).
The red referendum
Of course all of the above would probably serve to explain why a 2nd referendum is an unlikely possibility, not until after brexit and the damage has been done. The two main parties have much to lose from a 2nd referendum. It would be a death match for the political classes, a Game of Thrones season finale, with a body count to match. Not until wild horses drag them to the polls will we get a 2nd referendum. Party politics will likely trump the national interest. And as for the will of the people, I think the message from politicians now is likely to be, to paraphrase Boris, fu*k the people. After all, if the reverse were true, they’d have never held the 1st referendum!
Which is why if people do want a 2nd vote, you have to withdraw your support from the main parties. Go to your MP tell them you plan to never vote for his/her party again, even if you are in a marginal seat, you’ll be supporting a pro 2nd vote party from now on (lib dems, SNP, Green’s). Only when enough MP’s start to fear for their jobs is there any chance of another vote.