Theresa May announced her Brexit ‘Plan B’ to parliament, but little progress has been made since last week’s votes.
Theresa May today addressed parliament in the wake of Tuesday’s record breaking Brexit Vote defeat, and the subsequent vote of no confidence victory by 19 votes; 325 to 306. With the option of a general election definitely off the table (for now), May spoke about her work on a ‘Plan B’, which began last week after her promise to reach out to the leaders of all opposition parties.
May reiterated her pledge to honour 2016’s referendum result, but the calls for a second vote are growing louder and will not go away anytime soon. Something which seemed unthinkable 18 months ago, is now looking more likely by the day. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said:
Source: Sky News
“I think and I fear that we are headed on a path towards delay and probably, yes, a second vote”
The ‘People’s Vote’ has been associated almost exclusively with remain so far, but could another vote actually be the best outcome for leave supporters as well?
Eliminating ‘No Brexit at all’
During The Prime Minister’s Questions in November, Theresa May warned that the UK risk a ‘no Brexit at all’ if her deal was not backed shortly after the Withdrawal Agreement was released. It was said that if MPs did not back the deal, this could be the end result. With the deal now dead in the water, this risk has come to the forefront, along with the threat of a no deal Brexit. If no progress is made in talks between opposition parties and the EU, the government will be left with the choice of no deal, another vote, or to revoke Article 50 all together. Leavers have naturally been very resistant to the idea of a second vote, but there is certainly no guarantee any referendum would be a landslide for Remain.
A ComRes poll, carried out on the day the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected, still had ‘Leave’ polling at 40% and ‘Don’t know/Undecided’ at 16% when participants were asked how they would vote in a second referendum. A YouGov poll the following day dropped slightly, to 38 and 14% respectively. Considering the last few months’ events, these findings are still remarkably close and underline that potential Brexiteers could agree with a second referendum. Many Leave voters and supporting MPs want to avoid a no deal Brexit, and a second result for Leave would provide them with this security, along with a clear mandate to finally push through the Brexit that they want. Yes, there is of course the risk of a Remain result, but is that a risk worth taking?
What happens if the UK vote to Remain?
One of the biggest criticisms of holding a second referendum, is the uncertainty that would follow a Remain victory. It is a question that continues to be asked, but no one seems to have the answer to. Politics is simply not built for a rock-paper-scissors, ‘best of three’ style approach, but this is what may have to happen. The question is when would any third vote be? Straight away, or after another three years of infighting and political discord? Some remainers may argue that the second referendum result should be final, but giving one vote more weight than the first would prove misguided and extremely dangerous. This could result in millions of people refusing to vote again and widen already huge societal divisions.
A second referendum would certainly be to the benefit of remainers, but there is still the possibility that ‘Remain’ may not even be on the ballot paper. Various ballot option combinations have been suggested, ranging from no deal; to May’s deal; remain; or a ballot featuring two questions, to decide what type of Brexit voters want. One potential option that is gathering pace is a Norway Plus style deal, which may become more popular in the wake of Yvette Cooper’s cross-party bill that could force Theresa May to compromise once more. Much like May’s deal however, any Norway style agreement threatens to disappoint Leave and Remain voters alike.
In truth all available options at this point risk not satisfying huge swathes of voters. With today’s ‘Plan B’ drawing criticism for sounding suspiciously like ‘Plan A’, something has to give to break the impasse. If the cross-party bill and discussions succeed in removing the chance of leaving with no deal on 29 March, then hard Brexiteers will be forced to compromise even further. It’s risky, unchartered and unpopular, but a second referendum could prove finite; and that’s why it might be the only answer for everyone going forward.