Dr Sarah Ingham is a defence analyist.
As turbulence following the general election continues, it has been business as usual for Britain’s bookmakers . With one difference: Paddy Power has opened a market on a second referendum on EU membership. Punters are being offered odds of 4/1 that a new poll will take place before 2019, either on another in/out vote, or on new membership terms.
If they haven’t already done so, Paddy’s rivals are sure to follow. This would be good news for those of us who have long wanted to put our money where our mouths are when it comes to the likelihood of Brexit. Once again, the bookies are ahead of the politicians.
Given that the election was supposed to be all about Brexit, Europe didn’t actually get much of a look-in as an issue. Most of us are none the wiser about what a soft/hard, good/bad deal would actually look like – or what ‘no deal’ means. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ means exactly what?
Theresa May called the election to strengthen her hand in the negotiations – but negotiations over what? At the most reductive, the UK seems to want an end to the free movement of people but to retain the benefits of tariff-free trade with the EU. It wants open borders with Europe in one part of the kingdom, Northern Ireland – but control over them everywhere else.
The Brexit conundrum has finally crystallised, thanks to the women who are currently saving the nation from a loony-left, Venezuela-lite government: Ruth Davidson and Arlene Foster. The Scots supremo wants to put free trade with Europe – i.e: the Single Market – at the heart of the Brexit deal, while the DUP leader rejects the return of any hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Fair enough, but how are these objectives compatible with leaving the EU?
Unless I have missed it, during an election campaign supposedly all about the EU, no one seems to have spelt out that the UK cannot have its gateau and eat it. The penny, or perhaps the Euro, is dropping that there some circles that are impossible to square.
The Prime Minister has managed to fob off anyone asking for clues about what the end-game for Brexit Britain will look like with assertions about not revealing her hand ahead of a negotiation. Casting herself as the Boudicca of suburbia storming in to fight the good fight, one against 27, has been another misstep by her: talks will centre on the dry, tedious stuff of the small print and sub-clauses of legally-binding treaties and agreements; they won’t be a re-run of the Battle of Britain.
Amidst all the current confusion, it is obvious that in Westminster some back-tracking on Brexit is getting underway. No politician – yet – dares to talk about revisiting the referendum issue: the assertion that 80-something per cent voted for parties who are committed to Brexit is providing temporary cover for MPs. This line won’t hold. Since when did voting for a party mean endorsing every policy in any election manifesto? Especially when large chunks of the Conservative offering are being put into the shredder.
My betting is that Jeremy Corbyn will soon seize the initiative, and demand a second referendum on the terms of any Brexit deal. Such a move will cement his support among the under-30s, who are overwhelmingly Euro-enthusiasts. He only has to look at the Stoke by-election victory in February to realise that even in seemingly solid pro-Brexit Labour areas, the EU issue is not voters’ priority. If he does make that EuroRef2 call, further momentum and Momentum will be with Labour.
With Paddy Power opening a book on a second referendum, the idea is gaining ground. What’s the betting that in EuroRef2, with an agreement that is so watered down that it is meaningless, voters will still be backing Brexit?