February 26, 2019
Corbyn frustrates second referendum by supporting it
We wrote a tweet a couple of days ago that we expected Jeremy Corbyn eventually to accept a second referendum - in a kiss-of-death sort of way. Exactly that happened last night.
His shift is not about a second referendum. It is a clever move to keep the Labour Party together after the string of resignations last week. It has also shifted attention away from the anti-semitism debate. At least 25 Labour MPs are expected to rebel. There is not enough support among Tory MPs for a second referendum either, especially now that it is the official policy of the Labour Party. There was initially some confusion over the kind of questions Labour would include in its version of the second referendum. But the Guardian reports that Remain would be an option, whilst a no-deal Brexit would not. Labour leaders indicated that, if faced with a binary choice between May's Brexit and Remain, they would campaign for Remain.
While we see no chance of a Labour amendment for a second referendum passing the Commons, the interesting question becomes what the Labour leadership will do afterwards. If May loses the second meaningful vote, we expect either elections or a route towards a parliamentary compromise - some triangulation between the customs union, the Norway option and May's own deal. Since none of these have to be settled in full detail for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified, there is a reasonable chance that a compromise could be reached to kick forward the important decisions on the future relationship. Such an agreement would untie Corbyn from his referendum pledge. What he did yesterday was to unite the Labour Party in full opposition to what he called a Tory Brexit. He has been told by the EU that the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation even if he became prime minister, but that the EU would be open to a different future relationship.
We think the most likely consequence of yesterday's news from Labour is the exact opposite of what it says. Corbyn has moved to kill the second referendum, thus paving the way for a compromise if the House of Commons rejects the meaningful vote for a second time.