In the House of Lords on October 25th, Lord Kinlochard (John Kerr, the former ambassador) referred to THE ROADMAP TO A PEOPLE’S VOTE* as setting out a
strategy for a further referendum on Brexit. The debate did not take up the suggestion
but it is important for several reasons, the most imharmediate being what Lord Kerr – one
of the main experts on EU law – highlighted as an immediate priority.
Lord Kerr said “I acknowledge that it would be necessary to stop the Article 50 clock and obtain an extension of the two year negotiating period”. He thought this would be something the 27 states of the EU would be prepared to accept, though he argued this could not be simply to continue to negotiate as the EU is getting tired of the wrangling.
This affects the official People’s Vote position. On the surface the petition only wants the Deal to be put to a vote, which cannot be done unless the Article 50 deadline is moved back. But there is unlikely to be public support for simply prolonging talk on the Deal, which presumably would then have to be put to another vote…. and start a groundhog day where there is never a resolution. The EU states are not likely to accept that, so March
29th would remain as the Deadline – less than five months away.
Lord Kerr thinks that the EU would allow an extension if there is a further referendum- the dates he thinks could be in May, June or September of next year – and this is worth making a target. While Theresa May has stated repeatedly the UK will leave on March 29th, this is a political not a legal decision so to break the government is the immediate challenge. This is hard as will become clear when the Deal is put to parliament.
There is a slight possibility there will be no Deal, but it is not high. Tom Kibasi of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the Guardian argued persuasively that NO DEAL is being spun by Downing Street to divert attention from the Deal being cobbled together with the EU. No government could run into an crisis which would involve shortages of food and medicine, so No Deal is highly unlikely. But it is suprising that the tactic has worked so well.
Business is likely to support any Deal to avoid a cliff edge, as is the EU who want the Brexit issue off their agenda, but what is on offer is likely to be a transitional arrangement which avoids all the Big Issues for 21 months or so, after which the cliff edge reappears. The transitional period will leave more negotiations which see Britain with no effective bargaining chips and no insider position as we will have left.
The Leave camp will be right on one point – Britain will become a vassal state with no voice in the European corridors of power. It will be BINO – Brexit in Name Only
What May plans to deliver is Leaving the institutions of the EU on March 29th, after which Britain is out and going back would take years with real damage to Britain. As this becomes clear, despite the possibility of a high sounding declaration of intent to pursue deals around the world, a further referendum with the option to stay becomes more attractive.
But only if the Article 50 deadline is pushed back for at least six months. It will be difficult to stop a Deal if that is all that is on offer is the official PV position of a vote on the Deal despite time running out – so the People’s Vote petition taken at face value is a non starter. But seeking an extension so that the big issue can be put to the voters again is feasible, especially with Crossover Day coming up – Peter Kellner’s calculation that with elderly Leave voters dying and young pro EU voters coming on the register in numbers, the balance of power shifts in January – a Best of Three Vote becomes a possibility.
But first things first. May must be stopped from panicking MPs, backed by the Leave press and with many MPs fearing for their jobs, pushing the Deal through parliament. That would end any chance of any vote.
To achieve the space needed to push for a vote, on any basis but especially the one that matters and re-run the question of 1975 and 2016 – in or out – then the deadline has to be
put back. Sensible people should seek to meet Lord Kerr and other sympathetic Lords to
see, as a matter of urgency, how the oracle can be worked and the Article 50 Leave date
be put back.
Trevor Fisher 8 11 18
*presumably the one published by Best for Britain – Kerr refers to publication a