Let me make this clear from the start. I am wholly opposed to a Second Referendum, a People's Vote, a Loser's Vote, call it what you will. In 2016 we were told that it was a 'once in a generation vote' and that the government would 'implement what you decide'.
Since then, those who were on the losing side have conjured up all sorts of arguments to argue that we should be allowed to vote again. They mainly centre around the 'fact' that the situation has changed, people didn't know what they were voting for, that they were lied to, that no one voted for no deal... And so it goes on. The thread of all these arguments is that those behind the calls for another vote is a Remain supporting elite who think they know better than 'the plebs'. They're the sort of people who barely ever venture beyond the confines of the M25, or even Islington. I exaggerate to make the point. They are people who live in a Westminster-Media bubble who just cannot bring themselves to understand why those who voted for Brexit did so, and still don't resile from doing so.
All the polls show very little movement since June 2016. Supporters of another referendum trill that the polls are now 53-47 for Remain. Trouble is that the polls on 22 June 2016 showed exactly the same thing. If the polls were showing Remain ahead by a big margin - 65-35, 70-30, for example, their case would be far stronger than the weak one it is today.
It is also clear that if there was another vote the divisions which continue to exist in our country would be exacerbated and deepened. The campaign would be far more aggressive than the last one, and I doubt very much whether one side would emerge with a majority of 4-6%. And if Remain won, Leave supporters would then no doubt argue for another one to make it best of three.
The real agenda of Remainers is not just to have a second referendum, but to cancel Brexit altogether in the meantime, or at the very least delay it by as long as possible. It is virtually impossible now for a referendum to be held before 29 March 2019, the date that we are set to leave the EU. So in order for a second referendum to happen, Article 50 would have to be either withdrawn or postponed. The news from the European Court of Justice this week shows that it would be simple for the government to withdraw it and cancel Brexit altogether, but to postpone it, it requires the agreement of all 27 other member states. In theory, if they are true to their word that they want to us to stay, that might be expected to be a formality. But I wonder.
Justine Greening thinks the earliest date a referendum could happen would be on May 30th. She explains her thinking HERE. I suspect the truth is that it would be difficult to organise before the end of June or July. First of all, Parliament would have to pass a new Act of Parliament authorising the vote. You can imagine to parliamentary jiggery pokery that would occur during the various stages of a Referendum Bill. And then the Electoral Commission has to spend a good few weeks (14, I'm told) consulting on what the question should be.
And here (at last, I hear you say) I come to the point of this article. In the various debates I have had on my show people have put forward various options as to what would be asked.
- Option 1: A repeat of the 2016 question. Leave or Remain
- Option 2: Three questions: Theresa May's deal, No Deal or Remain
- Option 3: Theresa May's deal or Remain
- Option 4: The Professor Vernon Bogdanor Option: A Leave or Remain vote followed a week later, if Leave win, by another vote on Theresa May's deal or No Deal
I'm going to suggest another option, which so far as I can see, no one has come up with yet - and you'll see why no Remain supporter has suggested it...
- Option 5: Exclude the Remain option from the ballot paper altogether, and make it a simple choice - Theresa May's deal (or an updated version of it) versus No Deal
Of course Remainers would be up in arms if Remain were left off the ballot paper, but this is the only way that you could hold a second referendum while still respecting the result of the first. If Remainers fail to see the logic of that, then that is their problem.
Let me finish by repeating what I said at the outset. I do not want another referendum. I will continue to argue against it because it would mean we wouldn't leave the EU on 29 March. However, there's no point in sticking our heads in the sand. Even some of Theresa May's advisers are beginning to countenance the possibility, even if she isn't. Indeed, as Alex Wickham reported on Buzzfeed yesterday, the only time Theresa May ever shows signs of getting bad tempered is when anyone raises the prospect of a second referendum. Long may that be the case.