April 26, 2019
How Brexit has given rise to different perceptions of reality
We have been observing for some time how Brexit has produced reality-defying group-think on both sides of the debate. If you lock a bunch of second-referendum supporters into a room for long enough, they will tell you the second referendum is already happening. The same goes for the hard Brexiteers, who keep on banging about the Malthouse compromise.
It may well be that one of the extreme poles in the Brexit debate might prevail in some form of a violent high-noon standoff. But we still believe the more likely solution will be a compromise - though not right now. May has now dropped plans to bring the withdrawal agreement bill to the Commons next week. She has not yet found a majority. We also don't think a compromise is likely before the European elections. Why should Jeremy Corbyn forgo what looks like a potential election victory?
The debate in the Labour Party is fascinating. Last night, a newspaper uncovered Labour's yet unpublished EU election campaign material, which makes no mention of a second referendum. Keir Stamer and the party's many other second referendum supporters were said to be shocked. But why? Labour has not yet changed policy. Its 2017 election manifesto stated explicitly that Labour accepted the referendum result. There are circumstances under which Labour would support a second referendum, for example as a condition to support May's version of the future relationship. Contrary to widespread views, we think this is actually a clear policy, as is Labour's proposal for a customs union. The second referendum crowd obviously disagrees with the stated policy. But it is behaving as though the policy has already changed. Which it hasn't.
We can see circumstances under which that might happen. But the indications so far point in a different direction. The campaign material seemed to have the handwriting of Seumas Milne, Corbyn's main political adviser and himself a eurosceptic. Corbyn has not given any indications that he would support a second referendum. And people were genuinely shocked to see Lord Adonis, probably the single most extreme second referendum supporter in the Labour Party, come out with a statement to apologise for an earlier remark that Brexiteers should not vote Labour. As a quid pro quo for his nomination as a Labour candidate in the European election, he is now battling for what he calls a sensible Brexit. He would not have been selected otherwise. Would that have happened if policy was about to shift?