Voting is at the heart of the People’s Vote (PV) campaign, but what it wants a vote on is a mystery. Some of its supporters believe the aim is a vote on Brexit, but this is avoided in the main literature. The aim is explicitly about a People’s Vote on the final Deal – the so called ‘Meaningful Vote’ in parliament. The campaign wants the vote to be put to the people. OK, but what follows from this is unclear.
The official website (https://www.people’s-vote.uk/march)- as we report in the Issues section – is giving three reasons for marching on June 23rd (a) new facts unknown at the time of the referendum (ie the 2016 referendum) – (b) promises made at thPe time are not going to be kept and (c) “the Westminster elite is making a mess of it”. No argument there, but the key issue is whether the Vote will be a full referendum on Brexit.
Another referendum has become the elephant in the room. It is curious how many groups seem anxious to ‘respect’ the Second Referendum. Even the admirable Another Europe is Possible in launching its valuable Left Against Brexit tour was quoted by the Guardian saying it “will not call for a re-run of the referendum on EU membership, but for Corbyn to formally reject leaving the EU”, which he has pointedly refused to do. The confidential briefing for the People’s Vote action day on April 14th is less Labour and more broad focus. But it is not openly for a third referendum as the Frequently Asked Questions section makes clear.
Not about stopping Brexit.
Open Britain briefing gives 3 key reasons for launching the campaign – they are the same as on the London March website, but clarify why NOW, ending with “the public should be able to take a look at the deal before we leave and express their views on it”. (emphasis added Ed) . So that seems clear. As the Brexiteers say, we are leaving and PV seems to agree. T he People’s Vote is NOT about stopping Brexit.
FAQ are explicitly about “respecting” the 2016 referendum (“We respect the result of the 2016 referendum and this is not in any way about re-running it”) and wants to challenge only the Deal to leave. It want to “put the electorate back in control and give everyone the chance to decide the deal is good for the country”. This wording suggests what the PV becomes is an affirmative ballot? The only option to approve, give the Tories the nod to go ahead? Well possibly not as the next question gives the model answer “it is only right that it should be the people that decide whether we accept it or not”. So does this mean a NO vote would trigger a referendum?
Ambiguity again follows, the next question talks of having Remain on the ballot paper – full answer given here, words are important – “Open Britain’s view is that there should be an option to stay in the EU. But that will ultimately be for parliament to decide. We are focussed on winning the campaign to give the people a vote on the final deal”. And if parliament decides not to put that option on the ballot paper…..? Make up your own mind. The rest of the briefing is about the campaign’s methods.
Part of the obscurity comes from the messages in the Poll data. These are complex and do show some movement towards disliking Brexit, though no major shift of opinion. But what is having an impact is the data showing that voters are more inclined to approve MPs rejecting the Deal than rejecting Brexit. Yougov (according to Alan Wells, reporting on March 29th on UK Polling Report) said polling around Easter found 42% of voters would accept MPs blocking the Deal – 34% against MPs doing this. If MPs were to block Brexit itelf, the numbers switch – 45% would be opposed, 33% in favour, the rest Don’t Know.
Overall, polls show some 30% of Remainers now accept the 2016 vote, giving a two thirds majority against a third referendum. Open Britain and its allies know that most people do NOT want a third vote, so are backpedalling. Understandable, no one wants a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and Labour in particular does not want to lose voters by coming out against Brexit. In terms of election strategy this a powerful argument – as it was in Stoke Central during the by election in February 2017. But campaigners cannot sit on the fence for ever. What happens if the People’s Vote rejects the Deal? The hint is that voters then get to decide on Brexit. But it is only a hint.
The root problem is the same that faces Labour with its 6 tests. What does Labour do if the Deal does not meet the tests? Official Labour policy is for a referendum… or it was in 2016. Open Britain and its People’s vote campaign run close to calling for one…. but then fudge the issue. The Tory Deal will come to parliament in the autumn. Sitting on the fence for ever is not an option.
Trevor Fisher 7th June 2018