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September 25, 2018

Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition

We managed to include in yesterday's briefing the breaking news about the hard-fought compromise in the Labour Party on the wording of its second-referendum motion. The party's conference will adopt that motion today. It keeps all option open. The supporters of what is known as the People‘s Vote - a second referendum to undo the first - were bitterly disappointed that there was no clear commitment to undoing Brexit. It did not help that John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, went on BBC radio to declare that there may a be second referendum on the deal itself, but not on Brexit. This came as a complete shock to the pro-referendum supporters. They considered it cynical.

Many of those who support a second referendum in the UK have never read Article 50 or, if they have, did not understand it. Article 50, once invoked, foresees two outcomes. An agreed and ratified withdrawal deal, or exit without a deal. A deal-versus-no-deal referendum is thus the more logical referendum question in the context of Article 50, especially in the case when a proposed deal is rejected. A three-way referendum is madness. But so is a referendum that reduces the choice to accept-versus-remain. We see no chance that the electoral commission would accept a choice that fails to include no deal. 

What we found interesting about McDonnell‘s comments is the kind of referendum he prefers - one between Theresa May‘s hypothetical deal and Labour‘s own version of Brexit. This is yet another variant. We also know that Jeremy Corbyn regards a general election as the only way out of a Brexit ratification failure. We think he is right.

Much of the debate is hypothetical. It is about what would happen if parliament were to reject the deal, or if there is no deal and there is no election. Would parliament have a majority in favour of a referendum? If the Labour Party cannot agree to another in-and-out referendum, then surely the Commons as a whole cannot either. 

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