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January 18, 2019

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Emerging Labour opposition to 2nd referendum

There are two important, seemingly offsetting developments in the run-up to a Brexit decision. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are facing rebellions - in opposite directions. As the Guardian reports, a dozen frontbench Labour MPs are threatening to resign if Corbyn shifts to a second referendum (which he probably won't). The other story, in the Daily Telegraph, is that a group of 20 junior ministers is threatening to quit unless May takes no-deal off the table - which she won't. We knew that the group of Remainers in the government is around that size. There are 9 backbench Tories who openly support a second referendum, and it is probably safe to add those to the list - adding up to about 30 rebels.

But the Labour story is more significant in our view. There is sufficiently strong opposition inside Labour to kill off the whole idea of a second referendum. If you do the numbers - and then add some - we just do not come close to the needed parliamentary majority. We saw 71 Labour MPs at a recent rally in favour of the referendum. The group claims that there are another 50 or so lurkers, which would bring up their total to 120 (that is, if we believe them). Add the other opposition parties, and the pro-referendum Tories, and you come to about 200. And this is a generous estimate. The total number of MPs is 650.   

We think there is one circumstance in which the numbers could change - if the impasse in UK politics were to lead to a general election. That would confront Labour with having to make the choice it always wanted to avoid - between backing a second referendum and pushing for a customs-union Brexit. We would not totally exclude the possibility that, at that point, Labour ends up campaigning in a general election in favour of a second referendum. That might, or might not, be a good campaign strategy. It would certainly produce a proxy-referendum between two contrasting choices. But, in contrast to other commentators, we see no possibility that the current parliament ends up supporting a second referendum. 

This is the context in which to read the debate about taking no-deal off the table. If you have a three-way choice - deal, no-deal, or revocation - and if you reject the deal, then, surely, the demand to take no-deal off the table is  synonymous with supporting revocation. Except that the no-deal supporters cannot get themselves to say so openly. We are in a battle of euphemisms - no-deal off-the-table as opposed to revoke, or People's Vote as opposed to repeat referendum. 

Our other stories

We also have stories on why Dublin won't yield on the backstop; on the politics behind Italy's new welfare state; on how Macron's town-hall meetings interact with the gilets jaunes; on why it is so difficult to resolve a complex bank; and on how investment keeps eurozone recession away.

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