01 March 2019

Labour is now officially backing a second referendum with Remain on the ballot. But, argues Jill Rutter, another referendum may not solve the question of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The Labour Party has swung behind the move to put the issue of UK membership of the EU back to the people – though it is still unclear this would be supported by a majority of MPs. John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, said this week that the party will put an amendment down to the Prime Minister’s meaningful vote, promised by 12 March.

Labour could back the idea being offered by its backbenchers, Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, to approve the Prime Ministers’s deal, conditional on that approval being confirmed in a referendum. Confirmation via the referendum would mean the deal was approved, where rejection would mean revocation of Article 50.  

But if that amendment succeeded, it could mean that a deal that does not command a majority in the House might live on as the only alternative to remaining in the EU. For MPs who voted against the deal or prefer the UK to leave with no deal at all, this would be unpalatable. 

Even if the Prime Minister's deal were on the ballot, people would not be sure what they were voting for

Some aspects of the Prime Minister’s deal are clear. People would know they were voting for an orderly withdrawal, a transition period ending in December 2020, a settlement on citizens’ rights, a financial settlement agreed and a final version of the Irish border backstop.

The Prime Minister’s deal would also end “vast contributions” to the EU budget and freedom of movement, as well as leave the UK outside the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market. 

But beyond that it is far from clear what the UK’s future relationship with the EU would look like under her deal. The Prime Minister herself admits it encompasses a spectrum of options.

Future relationship negotiations with the EU could even collapse. The Government could clarify what it wants during a referendum campaign but, as the UK has learnt over the last two years, the EU has its own interests to pursue, and the Government’s wishes may not be negotiable.

A new Conservative leader, or a new prime minister from another party, could change the Prime Minister’s current red lines – and the EU has made clear that this would change the possible destination. Would the vote for May’s deal carry any weight in those circumstances?

Another referendum on Brexit might not offer the resolution people seek

The selling point for another referendum is that it would settle the issue – now people know the facts. A vote to support the Prime Minister’s deal would confirm the result of the 2016 referendum, but, as set out above, still leave the nature of the future relationship unresolved.

But a second vote to remain in the EU would be as – if not more – contested as the first vote to leave. Unless Remain was supported by decisively more voters than the 17.4m who voted last time, frustrated Brexiteers would say the second referendum failed to countermand the first result.

A small margin of victory for the Remain campaign would also infuriate the losing side, as would a lower voter turnout. Regardless of the result, many Brexiteers would say that the referendum had disenfranchised all those who wanted a proper Brexit – not “May’s Brexit in Name Only”. Others would say that their version of a softer Brexit should be on offer as well.

Labour may have increased the odds of another referendum. But the odds that it would definitively answer the Brexit questions Parliament has been struggling with over the last three years are still low.

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Comments

What about Article 19. How would another referendum be affected by that. My undrstanding is we were out of EU by virtue of this article being triggered.

can you clarify .. the UK would have to have a referendum before we withdrew - not least so we could revoke and stay a member on current terms.. so would require an A50 extension.. has been assumption EU would be sufficiently relived to see us stay that they would grant this - but perhaps not right to take for granted

You say "Unless Remain was supported by decisively more voters than the 17.4m who voted last time, frustrated Brexiteers would say the second referendum failed to countermand the first result." They might say so but I cannot understand this; General Elections over time are won & lost with varying majorities. If "Remain" won the latest referendum they would have won on an up-to-date vote!

General elections are held every five years, so the public gets an ongoing chance for an up-to-date vote on their national government. By contrast, a decision to leave or remain in the EU is permanent for the foreseeable future.

The EU is an evolving entity, continually reshaped by new treaties, where new EU treaties can substantially affect our constitution, economy, laws, and rights - yet we do not have a chance to ratify or reject any of these changes at the ballot box.

We were told that the referendum in 2016 was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have our say, but now it seems that we may need to vote again until we deliver the answer that our leaders want, at which time, we shall be offered no further vote. This appears to many as a travesty of democracy. The situation might be perceived as fair if the public were guaranteed a right to further votes, every five years as with a national government, or whenever a new treaty is signed with the EU.

As I understand the ECJ decision, the UK could unilaterally withdraw out Article 50 notification at any time before 29/3/2019 and we would remain on the same terms as now because we would never have left. Presumably that would be the same if we withdrew our notification during the time of any extension?
I agree that unless there was an overwhelming win for one side or another, passions aren't going to be cooled quickly. I worry that some politicians are stirring up civil unrest, almost by encouraging it.
What any referendum vote would be on is problematical. The obvious one - Mrs May's deal or remain - seems the most straightforward, but would exclude the many proponents of no deal. On the other hand, a three-way vote would be complicated and might equally be seen as giving remain an advantage.
Regrettably, we've got ourselves into an almighty mess and aren't going to get out of it easily.

If there must be a second referendum (I desperately hope not) the only fair question on the ballot would be Leave or Remain. There is no other way to avoid splitting the question.

In the government's plan for Parliamentary voting, there are only three ways to avoid the no deal Brexit which they have already rejected. First, to accept the deal on 12th March. Second, to amend the government's plans in some way. Third, to request an Article 50 extension long enough for substantial renegotiation, a general election or a referendum, all of which would require us to hold Parliamentary elections in May. If we do not hold those, we drop out by default. How long does it take to organise a EU Parliamentary Election, for which the parties are not prepared?

Surely, a no deal option is simply too disastrous to contemplate and, despite what some radical Euro-sceptic voices now say, not at all what was promised a vote to leave would mean. Several leaver campaign leaders promised we would not even leave the SM and CU. Let's face it, with no definition of what a leave vote would actually mean, we brought about this split of the country.

could a referendum question conceivably have 3 questions based on a order of preference? remain, deal or no deal (with preferences counted until one option gets over 50% )

For leave voters, wouldn't this keep an alternative deal on the table - as no deal would no doubt in time lead to some sort of deal with the EU.

This is what Justine Greening wants - an AV referendum with 3 options on the table..

Surely a new referendum would only be useful if more fine-grained than the previous. Should it not to be: 1.Do you wish this country to stay in the EU (Option A) or leave it (Option B) ? 2. (only answer if you ticked Option B) Do you wish the country to leave under the agreement recommended by the Government (Option C) or without that agreement (Option D) ?
I do not know if this could be made to work practically but it seems to include all the possible choices.
If the result was close for "remain" could there not be a commitment to "remain" for now but re-run the same questions in some definite but limited time e.g. 1 year? This seems democratic, so should not EU bend some rules to acommodate it?

In reality, the 52:48 referendum result never delivered anything remotely like a mandate for change, which is the key purpose of any referendum. When this understanding of the result is put alongside the risibly bad pre-referendum information campaign, our MPs should never ever have voted for Article 50. Instead they should have done their duty as representatives of the electorate and voted it down there and then. Post-event analysis will show this to be the case. Using a 50:50 threshold was wrong. Every other nation that uses referendums for constitutional purposes uses thresholds in the range 66 to 70%. They are not stupid, they do it precisely to avoid the trap we have fallen into.

I am prepared to countenance a second referendum because Brexit is so gravely wrong, but I believe we already know enough to say that it was a mad idea all along.

Our media are failing to tell the public about the gravity of the mess we will get into with Brexit. Let’s look at how we would get on with trade deals involving the USA. Firstly, we have no real negotiating power, as we will desperately seeking a deal with them.

Ask Canada and Mexico how they did in the most recent redrafting of the NAFTA trade deal to produce USMCA. Under the terms of USMCA both nations now have to tell Trump about every other trade deal they are doing from the time they start work on it and keep the USA informed with all the paperwork as it goes along, with the USA having the right to walk away from USMCA if they don't like what they see. It's a poison pill to prevent deals with China, but it keeps them at Remora Fish status. Do we want that? That’s what we are going to get!

There is also Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows US companies to sue whole nations if the company feels it's being discriminated against. Canada has paid American companies millions of dollars because of this. It was ISDSthat buried the EU's TTIP deal with the US after years of negotiating. We will get ISDS too.

Right now, esponsibility for Brexit is moving towards Parliament. The House of Commons needs to admit to its collective mistake regarding Article 50, admit that all forms of Brexit have less to offer than Remaining and do what is best for the UK as a whole, pushing Brexit to where it belongs, the filing cabinet drawer marked “Mistakes”.

Having said all that, the UK has historically punched far below its weight within the EU and if we remain then it will be up to future governments to “join the club” properly and not only get the best out of the EU but help it with its own issues and shortcomings and even show some leadership for once.

Reminder - the re negotiation of existing deals, the prospect of other deals, Japanese car manufacturers leaving UK - it's this unknown "deal" that wasn't on a referendum ballot. A battle of Britain spirit isn't what makes a deal. Besides what sums are coming back as if to the NHS ? And net migration cannot change says David Davis, team unless U.K. workers are incentivised to take jobs they also assert they want " to leave to others " . Read up on select committee questions to David Davis, team. Read up on what Dominic Cummings did. And how what he did relied on Whitehall" restructuring itself before it could successfully negotiate." But his Slogan Bus " take back control " omitted such mention of facts . Who's going to update the public especially on Work shirked , Others best do ? So MANY deals at issue then ! Yrs F.Gaskin

A 2nd Brexit referendum is wanted only by people who are hoping to cancel Brexit.
If the result of another referendum was "Leave" would we have the same fiasco of MPs refusing to do what their voters want?
Highly likely.
If there is another referendum it should be about what type of Brexit do we want, not several options as close to leave as possible or leave itself.
We've already told the goverment what we want.
I hope MPs are ready for the retribution they will IMO deservedly receive at the next elections.