Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
The word ‘deadline’ is being devalued. First it was 29 March. Then April 12. Then May 22. Now, it’s Halloween.
And who’s to say that deadline won’t be kicked down the road again. Just make it stop, say some people. This week, Peter Oborne jumped from the Brexit boat, landing on the ship of Remain. It’s not the first time he has flip-flopped, but he did it with some style, writing a 4,000 word essay on a website that few have ever heard of.
My LBC colleague Nick Ferrari was the next to be ground down, announcing on Wednesday: “Honestly, there’s so much else going on in this country that we’re not addressing, not least the people who are being stabbed and shot, and the schools that are under-performing, and the hospitals that aren’t working, and the NHS that’s creaking at the seams… I give up! Enough! Right. I’ve reached the bloody point. I cannot go on and on about Emmanual Macron any longer. Just bloody stay and we’ll move on to other things.”
It’s an understandable sentiment, but wrong. If you believe in something, you see it through, rather than crack out of boredom or frustration. None of us could have envisaged the shambolic way the Brexit process has been handled, but that’s no reason to give up on it.
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The extension of Article 50 is neither fish or foul. It gives everyone a bit of a breathing space but, despite claims to the contrary, I don’t see it giving enough time for campaigners to fulfil their dream of a second referendum. Sky’s Lewis Goodall was terribly excited about the prospect on Twitter on Wednesday night, and was trumpeting a conversation he had had with the head of the Electoral Commission, in which he had said that a poll would be possible to achieve within six months.
This ignores the fact that there is no majority for a second referendum in the Commons, so the passage of any legislation – even if the Government promoted it – would be tortuous to say the very least. Sir Bill Cash’s lips are probably already being licked.
In addition, the Electoral Commission has a statutory 14 week period to consider the question – and that would be hugely controversial, so I don’t see that period being cut short, and if it were, as I understand it, that would also need legislation.
And then there would be the campaign, which would surely have to be a minimum of two months. Given that we also have the August summer holidays to consider, I just don’t see how a referendum could be held before 31 October.
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On Tuesday I interviewed the leader of The Independent Group of MPs, Heidi Allen. Right at the end of the interview I asked her why they hadn’t been able to build on their number of 11 MPs since February. She said that they didn’t want to precipitate a general election, but were talking to a number of MPs on both sides of the House with the expectation that there would be further recruits soon.
Much to my astonishment she went on to name seven Tory MPs the TIGs are talking to – Justine Greening, Antoinette Sandbach, Sam Gyimah, Alberto Costa, Phillip Lee, Huw Merriman and Guto Bebb. I’m sure that information was lapped up by Julian Smith.
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It is a disgrace that we are having to spend public money on fighting the European Elections. This breaches yet another of the Prime Minister’s so-called red lines. You’d have to be insane to be a Conservative candidate in these elections, but no doubt there will be enough people willing to put their heads on the block to fill the 70 places.
They will probably serve as an ersatz second referendum. It’s highly likely that Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party and UKIP will, between, them, achieve more votes than any other party. Whether Farage can sideline UKIP totally, I somewhat doubt. He will paint them – correctly – as the new BNP, but I suspect that won’t be enough to suppress their vote below ten per cent.
The Independent Group, which will fight the elections under the Change UK banner, are unlikely to make a massive breakthrough and will be fighting the Liberal Democrats for the Remain vote. If they get 20 per cent between them, I’d be astonished.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Conservatives score under 15 per cent. Judging from the current polling Labour will top the vote, although Nigel Farage’s aim will be eat into it. If both Labour and the Tories do badly on May 2 in the local elections, that could provide him with the springboard to do just that.