SPIKED & The People’s Votes Phoney War

The Millbank* campaign for a People’s Vote (PV) on the Brexit Deal was launched on April 14-15 to tepid interest on the Andrew Marr show and a swinging attack on the  pro-Brexit Blog Site SPIKED (Spiked is the old Living Marxism crew and a classic example of populist reaction). In a piece  entitled THE PEOPLES VOTE A PARODY OF DEMOCRACY, Fraser Myers picked up on some obvious flaw in the  project which it would be foolish to ignore. Notably that  the People’s Vote  is an attempt to re- run the 2016 referendum which cannot be honest about that fact for fear of being called undemocratic, so seeks a popular vote on the terms of the Deal. But not Brexit itself.

Haggling over the details is not likely to be popular, and David Davis after the blog went to press suggested that the deal put to the Commons is likely to be only a draft, making the ‘vote’ a phony war. Neither the details nor the big issue – Brexit and the future- are likely to go for debate.

Hence the importance of  Myers, who argued “The rearguard Remain campaign launched its latest initiative to derail the democratic vote for Brexit…. to call for what they insist is not a second referendum”. While a further vote is perfectly sound constitutionally and Spiked is on very dodgy ground discussing democracy, they have spotted the elephant in the room. Myers argued “Their own polling tells them the people don’t want one”. And that is the underlying problem Millbank is avoiding.

Recent  polls  show a small movement in favour of questioning the 2016 vote depend on wording when calling for people to ‘have their say” or “final vote” is popular, but when the more precise ” a public vote” is suggested, the figure in favour drops to 39% agreed and 49%  opposed. Consistently the polling since 2016 polls reject a further vote and some 30% of Remainers are opposed to a further vote. The PV campaign is agitating for a vote which has no substantial public support. Spiked and the Brexiteers are opposed to a further Referendum for their own reasons but the public do not currently want one – by a margin of 65% to 35% on the latest polls. This is a crucial weakness Millbank has failed to address

Democracy, Sovereignty & the Third Vote

While  Spiked  may criticise Millbank’s tactics accurately,  they are wrong on fundamentals. While the 2016 vote was democratic – though flawed – there is nothing undemocratic  in calling for a further vote.

Britain not having a written constitution, the rules are made up inconsistently, but no one has ever said the second vote could not take place (it is of course the third vote which makes the case stronger) but the unresolved issue is whether this can happen imminently. Parliament can do anything it wants to do under parliamentary sovereignty. The only issue is whether  circumstances have changed sufficiently to make a third vote legitimate.

On this, Millbank is correct. The 2016 vote was a blindfold vote. As the terms of the deal are to be revealed, Britain has the right to vote again on whether it wants to go ahead. And it would be just as legitimate as the one the Scottish Nationalists are calling for, blocked by May but only on a temporary basis.

But the issue of what the deal on offer would be if it is ever put to a “People’s Vote” (sic) has become as  slippery as an eel. David Davis indicates the full Deal will not be on offer, and this is  likely to catch those who like Best For Britain argue the full deal must be there to vote for.  This has never been on the cards, despite  the Six Tests that Starmer has set. As Thornberry and Barry Gardiner have suggested,  voting  against the Deal may be impossible if it is as vague as motherhood and apple pie, and this is the prospect.

David Davis confirmed  to a Select Committee at the end of April that the Deal will not be available – rightly, as it will take years to do – stating the position put to the Commons in the ‘meaningful vote’ will be “a political declaration rather than a treaty draft”, (BBC 25th April 2018). This would be a trap for Labour if the proposal rests on the 2016 Referendum. It is also likely to confirm the Leave date as March 29th 2019. Labour could not vote against that having voted for Article 50. If parliament voted against that to send negotiators back to Brussells it would do so having left the EU. What bargaining position they would then have is anyone’s guess. The pressure would be to accept the deal – or leave with no deal, which has been Tory policy since February 2017.

The Millbank tendency and it’s outriders are stating they do not want a vote on Brexit but only the terms of Brexit- which will be defined by the Tories. If this is the best offer for a People’s Vote, do not expect a wonderful outcome.

If the ‘terms’ so called are as Davis said, “a political declaration” it will be in terms that stress the referendum result, not the fine details which will not be there. Labour hopes the 6 tests will give  details they can reject to send the government back  to renegotiate on its terms- the government will go back to negotiate if ‘parliament is in control’. This is not likely if the terms are merely a political declaration.

Meanwhile People’s Vote supporter Gareth Thomas MP is seeking in May a vote on “A people’s vote … to take back control over Brexit from a small cabal of leave ideologues” (Observer 29th April). Not likely if the ‘terms’ to be voted on confirm the result of the Referendum of 2016. For both Labour and the People’s Vote, challenging that Referendum is going to be essential. And at the moment, the People do not support this as Spiked and others in the Brexit lobby are only too happy to point out. That is the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018

* Based in the Millbank Tower a 9 organisation coalition of pro Remain Organisations explicitly inspired by the Blair- Cameron campaigns which were based in the Dark Tower near parliament.

 

 

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