November 14, 2018 could go down as the day a Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union was finally agreed. However, the reaction from British MPs suggests the deal is far from concluded, with calls for a second referendum increasing.
Even while Theresa May ardently defended her Brexit deal in the Commons on the November 15, ministers outside Westminster warned that it was unlikely to be supported, and the likelihood of a second referendum is now higher than it has been since the first vote in 2016.
Speaking outside parliament during the Prime Minister’s address, Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said Parliament would not allow the deal in its current form, saying: “She [the Prime Minister] can’t get this deal through Parliament, Parliament will not allow no deal, no deal is an impossibility, politically and constitutionally. I think the only option that the Prime Minister has is to force another referendum on this deal.”
Hard-line Brexiteers argue passionately that to have a so called ‘People’s Vote’ would be undemocratic, cheapening the result of the first referendum. It is also feared a second referendum would spark severe civil unrest in an already divided country.
Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “The referendum triggered a bitter culture war, fought out day after day. Against that backdrop, most parliamentarians probably think the original referendum was a mistake and to hold another referendum would be too.”
Those in favour of a second referendum believe the first did not adequately answer exactly what Brexit meant, and that a people’s vote on the final deal is the only way to confirm if the British public are happy with the draft deal before sending it to the EU to be finalised.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Wednesday during the first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) since May brought back her deal, Caroline Lucas asked the question: “Recent polls show that actually a vast majority of people would like no Brexit at all in order to save jobs, protect the environment and ensure our standing in the world. So will [the Prime Minister] acknowledge that the will of the people has changed, the will of the people has changed and will she therefore think that the way forward is a people’s vote, or does she think democracy ended on 23 June 2016?”
Despite being the only Green Party MP in Parliament, Lucas is not alone in expressing this opinion. Addressing the issue of a second referendum being undemocratic, Sir Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton and a key member of the People’s Vote Campaign, said: “No one said what Brexit was in 2016, because they could not. The deal wasn’t done. I think the democratic case for having a referendum is to say, do you want this deal now we know what Brexit is and do you want to stay in the European Union, now we know why we should? I think the democratic case for that is overwhelming.”
On October 20, 700,000 people marched through the streets of London in the People’s Vote March, calling for a vote on the final deal. The protest has gone down as one of the largest ever to be held in the UK and shows the growing support for a second referendum among the British public, which has only increased since the draft deal divided Brexit opinion further in Parliament. One needs only to visit Parliament to see protesters carrying ‘Stop Brexit’ banners or waving EU flags on a daily basis.
However, much like the draft Brexit deal itself, there is also uncertainty about the terms of a second referendum. Would this include Theresa May’s Brexit deal as an option, as well as the option to remain in the EU? Would the option of a no deal also appear on the referendum? With such uncertainty surrounding the future of a deal predicted to be shot down in the House of Commons, it is hard to predict whether a people’s vote is yet a realistic option. For now, the deal waits in the wings and the country waits with bated breath.
Chris Jewers and Will Hayes
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