**UPDATE 31st OCTOBER**
How ironic that I should write this post just before the December General Election was announced, and fitting that I should be writing this on the day we were supposed to have been leaving.
As I argued above, only a referendum will solve Brexit; a General Election isn’t going to solve anything – at this rate, with the polls and the parties as they are, the parliamentary arithmetic is unlikely to change hugely and even if it does, there’s no guaranteeing that should Johnson be returned (which I think everyone expects), his MPs are all going to support his deal. So, we’ll be right back to square one and we’ll need a referendum to sort the mess out anyway.
Why the Liberal Democrats and the SNP think that this election will solve Brexit, I have no idea, considering the former have ruled out working with either of the two main parties in the event they are needed and the only way to stop Brexit in their eyes, is to elect a Lib Dem majority. Which isn’t going to happen.
Today is the 26th October. In five days’ time, we were supposed to have been leaving the European Union, three and a half years after the controversial 2016 referendum. Three Prime Ministers, a General Election, countless votes and an illegal prorogation haven’t managed to resolve the crisis the country now finds itself in. The problem? Parliament.
Although Parliament gave this choice to the British people, it has proven time and time again that it is impossible of coming together to find a solution. Despite the efforts of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the European Union, those on both the leave and remain sides of the European question have refused to give their backing to the terms of any agreement between the EU and the UK government. It’s either not been Brexity enough, or it’s been too Brexity. The art of compromise left the room long ago, leaving the door wide open for deeply held views to become even more entrenched across all parties in the House of Commons.
As someone who voted remain and who stood for a pro-remain party in the 2017 General Election, I’m fed up. Like thousands of other people up and down our so-called “United” Kingdom, I want Brexit resolved. Ideally, it wouldn’t be happening, but at the end of the day, we are where we are and it seems unlikely that Brexit will be reversed by Parliament or the government (unless, of course, the Liberal Democrats win a majority at an election held before our exit, which isn’t going to happen). So, with Brexit not progressing to anything that even remotely resembles a conclusion, we have to consider our options.
Firstly, there’s the idea that seems to be the most likely, which is a snap General Election. Personally, and I know many other think this way, an election isn’t going to solve anything. If recent polls are to believed, the Conservatives would either squeak a victory or we’d be in exactly the same situation we’re in now: a deadlocked and paralysed parliament. If Johnson were to command the most number of seats, there’s no way he could count on the support of the DUP after he seemingly threw Northern Ireland under the bus with his “new” deal. And without any indication that the Liberal Democrats would support a Conservative-led coalition, absolutely nothing would be different between this new Parliament and the one we currently have.
So, if an election can’t break the deadlock, what can?
In order for anything to happen, Parliament needs to give its consent. There’s no majority for Johnson’s deal (despite the fact it passed its first hurdle, the programme motion to take to the legislation through Parliament failed) and there’s no majority for a no-deal exit. If we rewind a few months ago, back when we all thought Theresa May was the worst Prime Minister this country had ever had, there were a series of indicative votes, where MPs indicated their support for a variety of options. The most popular choices were a softer version of Brexit and a confirmatory referendum on a negotiated Brexit deal.
I’ve already explained that Parliament itself cannot agree on a solution, so attempting to get support for a softer exit would be futile, as those on the hard-remain side (i.e. the Lib Dems and the SNP) are unlikely to agree to it, and the likes of Mark Francois and the ERG definitely won’t accept a Customs Union. The only choice left then, is to go back to the people in a binary in/out-with-deal referendum.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already indicated that they would give their support to Johnson’s deal on the basis it was subjected to a public vote. So yes, whilst Johnson would lose the support of a number of his own MPs, I believe the opposition numbers would more than make up for it.
At this stage, arguing for a second referendum isn’t just about wanting to reverse the result of the first one (something I have never subscribed to); it’s not even about obtaining the consent from the British people. It is literally the only way to resolve Brexit: remain or leave. Parliament cannot do it and Parliament will not do it.
Is a confirmatory referendum ideal? No. Will it be divisive and potentially damaging? Yes. Will it return a clear result? Who knows. But it is the only logical and clear route to an outcome to put an end to the misery that is Brexit Britain.