Call me a cynic, but I’m not entirely sure that second referendum campaigners are always honest about their intentions.
Perhaps it’s the inherent inconsistency of demanding a second referendum, which they claim they’ll respect, precisely from a starting point of failing to respect the first.
Maybe it’s the fact that, despite claiming for years that they aren’t out to stop Brexit, their rallies keep turning out to be full of people who say they’re there for exactly that purpose.
Possibly it’s their insistence that Remain must be an option on the ballot paper in such a referendum, despite repeatedly saying that all they are after is a vote on the ‘terms’ of Brexit.
Or it might be the way they keep changing what they say they want Parliament to be able to consider.
For ages they demanded a Commons vote on the idea of a second referendum, then when the chance arose in January they all fell out about actually holding one. The same happened again shortly afterwards. And then a fortnight ago, when Sarah Wollaston actually tabled a second referendum amendment, the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign refused to support it, as did Labour – only to then say they actually would still like a second referendum, they just wanted the vote they’d been demanding to take place at a later date, not ASAP after all.
Wollaston’s amendment was promptly defeated by 334 votes to 85, which might explain why the supposed enthusiasts for a Commons vote were somewhat reluctant about it actually taking place.
Not that that stopped them, of course. Fresh from cheering on John Bercow’s suddenly rediscovered love of precedent, and his resultant ruling that previously rejected proposals could not be brought back for repeated votes, they then clamoured for their proposal to be brought back for a repeated vote. The previous time didn’t count, apparently, for the very weighty constitutional reason that mumble cough, gosh what’s that over there?
It was at least very much on-brand to ignore a vote which they lost, in favour of a re-run to get what they want.
The bandwagon was back on track. We demand Parliament give a view on a second referendum! Our not-as-big-as-we-claimed march insists that MPs get to vote on the idea!
Then along came OIiver Letwin, with his proposal for ‘Indicative Votes’. Yes please, declared enthusiasts for a re-run, and they voted his amendment through on Monday. A second referendum is set to be one of the options on which MPs will vote, as they demanded.
Unfortunately, they now appear to be trying to back out again from getting the thing they said they wanted. In the Commons, Keir Starmer, Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening embarked on a remarkable effort to try to remove the idea of a second referendum from the list of options as an outcome, and to suggest it ought to be inserted into every possible Brexit outcome instead.
Apparently they are concerned that if a second referendum is simply one option of several it might be rejected again, so they want it to be treated differently.
What a coincidence – they are in effect arguing for every single route forward to have a shot at Remain added in. It’s almost like that is their true agenda.
The proposal has solidified into the Beckett-Kyle amendment, which, as Barry Gardiner has correctly diagnosed, essentially proposes a referendum as “simply a way of trying to remain”. Parts of the Labour leadership are reportedly somewhat uncomfortable about the idea because while they are happy to campaign for a referendum on a ‘Tory Brexit’, they are not keen on pledging a referendum on a ‘Labour Brexit’ (whatever that might be). They might reasonably feel that the second referendum crew they are dealing with are trying to stitch them up by changing their demands at every turn.
There are a couple of lessons in this.
First, the only way to deal with second referendum campaigners is on the basis that they are Remain campaigners, and nothing more. That’s not very surprising, given the PV organisation is literally just a rebranded Remain campaign, but is legally and operationally still the same outfit just wearing a new name badge. The open abandonment of their previously claimed reasons and motives as soon as they become inconvenient is entirely revealing as to their objectives and tactics.
Second, while they wrap themselves in the flag of Parliamentary sovereignty – as much out of a sense of irony as for convenience – they are still frightened that MPs simply won’t vote for their idea in an open and equal contest. Why else would they demand a vote now, right now, only to keep baulking when it approaches, boycott it when it happens, try to discount it after it has been lost, and then try to hold a new one, but only under preferential terms, on a basis of their choosing and a special footing apart from any other proposal?