The next steps on the rocky, risky road to a peo­ple’s vote

A new ref­er­en­dum could hap­pen, but the re­sult would again be close

The Observer - - News -

Is there enough sup­port in the Com­mons for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum? Not at the mo­ment, but should Theresa May lose the Com­mons vote over her Brexit deal and the Labour party try and fail to se­cure an elec­tion, it has said that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum is one of the op­tions on the ta­ble. Should Labour em­brace a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, it would re­quire sup­port from rebel Tory MPs. Some have al­ready backed it, but more would be needed – while some Labour MPs would refuse to back it.

Is there enough time?

Re­al­is­ti­cally the Brexit process would have to be sus­pended to ac­com­mo­date an­other ref­er­en­dum. But given that it could be the only way to re­solve the im­passe, Brus­sels may be happy to do so. Ex­perts think the whole process would take at least 24 weeks.

What would the ques­tion be?

The ques­tion on the bal­lot pa­per would be fiercely con­tested. Should it be Re­main vs Theresa May’s deal, No Deal vs Re­main, or No Deal vs May’s deal? Or should it in­clude all three op­tions? Cam­paign­ers for a peo­ple’s vote say only those op­tions that are on of­fer should be on the bal­lot pa­per – so any deal that has no back­ing in Brus­sels should be dis­missed.

Who will de­cide the ques­tion? The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion has a role in law to give ad­vice and test the po­ten­tial ques­tion, but ul­ti­mately the word­ing is de­cided by par­lia­ment.

Who would be able to vote?

A row will also rage about the fran­chise, with those in sup­port of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum also keen to al­low 16- and 17-year-olds to cast a vote this time round. This would be an­other par­lia­men­tary bat­tle.

Won’t most news­pa­pers back leav­ing again?

The Daily Mail – which ag­gres­sively sup­ported Leave in 2016 – has changed stance un­der its new editor. The “sabo­teurs” it has in its sights are no longer Re­main­ers but the hard Brex­iters – though it is cur­rently back­ing May’s deal, rather than Re­main.

What has changed since the last vote?

The geopo­lit­i­cal clouds have dark­ened. Bank­ing on Don­ald Trump for a trade deal – the hard Brex­iters’ plan A – has never looked less ap­peal­ing. Im­mi­gra­tion has be­come a less po­tent is­sue, while some of the com­pli­ca­tions and pay­offs of Brexit have emerged since the sum­mer of 2016. Prom­i­nent Leave cam­paign­ers have been dis­cred­ited by con­tro­ver­sies over cam­paign fi­nanc­ing and breaches in elec­toral law.

Why would the same vot­ers de­liver a dif­fer­ent re­sult?

Large num­bers of young peo­ple – more likely to be pro-EU – have turned 18 since 2016, and more of the older gen­er­a­tion – more likely to be Euroscep­tic – have passed away since the last vote.

Would the next cam­paign be just as mis­lead­ing?

It would be fe­ro­ciously fought, with claims of “be­tray­ing the will of the peo­ple” from many, and min­is­ters have said it could put re­spect for democ­racy at risk. How­ever, un­like in 2016, there’s an exit deal on the ta­ble against which claims of what is pos­si­ble can be judged.

Who would win?

While there does ap­pear to have been a small move­ment to­wards Re­main since the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, poll­sters are di­vided about how much peo­ple have changed their minds. It seems cer­tain that the re­sult would be close – and there is no guar­an­tee Re­main would win.


North Lon­don residents dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum vote in 2016, left. The op­tion of a sec­ond vote may see them re­turn to the polls.

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