Sadiq Khan added to the pressure on Theresa May to call a second EU referendum when he called today for “a public vote on any Brexit deal”. Except that is not how it was interpreted by the Corbyn-hating press.
The Observer/Guardian, never one to miss an opportunity to have a go at the Labour leader, carried the subhead on its website: “Mayor of London’s call for people’s vote adds to pressure on Jeremy Corbyn.” Which is odd, as it’s not up to Corbyn to call a referendum.
That is the prime minister’s job. And that’s the problem with this whole campaign.
Why would Theresa May EVER call a second referendum on Brexit?
Think about it for a minute: last year she scraped back into Downing Street, humiliated, thanks only to the votes of former UKIP supporters.
They voted Tory because they believed her “Brexit means Brexit” nonsense.
Would they vote for her again if she decided to call a second referendum? Of course they wouldn’t. Already there are signs of UKIP making a weak recovery in the opinion polls. So don’t make the mistake of thinking UKIP is dead and buried… it could rapidly be brought back to life if May made the wrong call on Brexit.
That would kill off any hopes the Tories might have had of winning the next election.
That fact alone should be enough to end any hopes of a “people’s vote”, but there are plenty of other reasons why it’s a non-starter – unless we have a general election first.
The first is obviously the practical one: you can’t organise a national referendum overnight. We need a deal, or confirmation of no deal, before we can even set one in motion, and it will be almost the end of the year when we are in that position. We are due to leave at the end of March, so that gives only a few weeks to conduct campaigns and get a result in time for it to have any meaning at all.
The Observer’s story talked of Labour activists wanting a commitment to a vote in the next election manifesto. Many of us would love a general election before the end of March, but it might not be until 2022.
By then, not only will the horse have bolted, but it will probably be dead.
Then there’s the question of whether a second referendum would be any less stupid than the first. David Cameron carelessly called that one in the mistaken belief that he would win easily – as the polls suggested – without even any need to specify, for example, a two-thirds majority threshold or make clear that the referendum was simply advisory. He complacently assumed the referendum would see off the tenaciously eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party labelled “the bastards” by John Major in the 1990s. Maybe he should have had a word with Major before making such a career-destroying error.
So the first referendum was stupid… why would another one be any less so? The fanatical remainers have convinced themselves that they would win easily next time, but they are being as complacent as Cameron.
They point to opinion polls showing a slight lead for Remain – but forget that polls before the referendum showed leads of up to 20%.
There are all sorts of reasons why the Leave vote might firm up in the event of a new referendum campaign, so the result might easily be the same again. But even if Remain won by another narrow margin, where would that leave the country? Civil unrest could not be ruled out as millions would feel their victory had been stolen from them by the very people they were voting against in 2016.
Khan makes some excellent points in his Observer column about the disaster that Brexit will probably turn out to be. I can’t argue with him about that – and I’m not even opposed in theory to a second vote.
The idea is clearly attractive to those who are frustrated with the way Brexit is going and who want to do something – anything – about it.
But the Labour position is right: not ruling out that vote, but not calling for it yet.
Why should they?
The clear Labour stance is that MPs will vote against a bad deal or no deal, which are probably the only options. And that’s if May gives them a “meaningful vote” in the Commons. She’s reluctant to do that, so who really believes she will give the public a vote?
May won’t call a second referendum unless the pressure becomes irresistible. That doesn’t mean opposition supporters marching in the streets, and it doesn’t mean Labour mayors writing in the papers.
it means every Tory chairman in the country hammering on her door demanding it. And there is little chance of that – right now, most of them are doing the complete opposite, angry that she is going too soft on Brexit with the Chequers “agreement”.
So was Khan’s demand for a second vote really “a dramatic call”, as the Observer had it? Or was it just an empty gesture in the full and safe knowledge that there is no hope of that vote ever happening?
Then again, if anyone out there has any plausible reason to believe that the “people’s vote” MIGHT ever happen, I’d be interested to hear it.