People’s Vote Petition Makes Headway

The People’s Vote petition is close to meeting its current target of 250,00 names, making it the dominant force in anti-Brexit campaigning. It is likely to set a new target and with a half million names a real possibility – and a million by the target date of October 20th – the initiative has  to be taken seriously, 

Launched after the 100,000 strong march on 23rd  June, the petition demonstrates the organisational skills of Open Britain, which organised both the march and the petition. The initial target of 150,00 names was achieved within a fortnight with 171,058 signing by 7th July, and by the end of the third week 22,060 extra names had signed up. The fourth week added only 11,159, but this last week saw 22,851 names added, maintaining the impetus. 

However this success does not mean that there will be a vote on Brexit, or even a vote on the Deal, as government is able to choose what happens. More importantly, there are two petitions in circulation and only one calls for a fresh vote on Brexit itself. The Open Britain petition clearly leaves this as an open question – so would a People’s Vote actually stop Brexit?


The Peoples Vote (Open Britain)

The success of the People’s Vote petition, is partly due to its brevity. It reads

“We the undersigned demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal”.

There is here no call for a vote on Brexit itself, and there is danger that the vote would be FOR the deal and thus FOR leaving the EU. The government has said that it will only allow a vote – currently only  vote in parliament – for or against the Deal, and if MPs vote against then a No Deal solution would be adopted. The People’s Vote seems to assume a vote would be against the Deal. Neither MPs nor the public can be taken for granted, and  arguing that polls show support for a Vote, while true, does not mean an automatic majority against the Deal.

Best For Britain

The People’s Vote certainly does not mean a vote on Brexit itself, but this has been proposed by Best for Britain. The BFB approach is two stage, parliament and then a popular vote. The key wording from its website says:

“We will campaign for parliament to reject any Brexit proposal that does not deliver the same benefits as we now enjoy as a  member of the EU. And we will support a People’s Vote on whether to make the final decision on whether to accept the terms of Brexit or keep our current deal with the EU. This vote is likely to be held towards the end of this year”.

BFB is therefore arguing for a two stage approach, a parliamentary debate and vote and only then a People’s Vote. This carries risks, for if parliament votes in favour of the terms of the Deal then whether a popular vote would be acceptable or indeed likely is questionable. Government has refused to accept any form of popular vote and can use a majority vote to avoid this. Whether it would still have a   autumn is open to doubt, but if there is a crisis, then the issue of having a third referendum will come onto the agenda. BFB would then be able to argue for a vote on the central issue of remaining in the EU. Open Britain is ambiguous on the central issue and as it is inevitable that the wording of a petition helps to channel the choices. If there is a People’s Vote should the government be allowed to define the choice to be made on its own negotiations?

Not A Clear Cut Choice

The People’s Vote if only confined to the terms of the Deal could play into the hands of the government. If May’s government manages to cobble together a deal and secure public support it could call a Vote on its own terms. May’s chances of doing this are slim and a No Deal scenario is a real possibility, but there can be no easy assumption that a deal would be rejected by the voters. Opinion polls do suggest  support for another vote is growing, though the increases do not suggest a major shift in opinion.

Rejecting the move to Brexit however is a bigger issue and much needs to be done to win support for that position.  Open Britain is not calling for this. Assuming a Vote means a Vote in the way Open Britain would want – against Brexit – is the Wish Being the Father to the Thought. Anti Brexit is an obstacle  race. There is no evidence Anti Brexit would win it unless the issue is put squarely on the ballot paper and then campaigned for. The Anti Brexit movement is not a majority and needs to review its options. As we head into the parliamentary recess, those options are limited by a lack of effective discussion. 

Trevor Fisher, August 2018.

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