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David Cameron moves the EU referendum back - is he turning into John Major?

Downing Street has squashed talk of a second referendum under pressure from the party's Eurosceptics and Labour. Is it 1992 all over again?

Downing Street has ruled out an early referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union under pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the Opposition. 

Although the Referendum Bill currently making its way through the Houses of Parliament guarantees a referendum by 31 December 2017, Downing Street staffers were keen to avoid holding the referendum in midterm. May 2016 was eyed as a possible date, setting up "a day of seven elections" - elections to the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, local elections in England, police and crime comissioner elections, and the Mayoral contest in London alongside the referendum. However, Newsnight reveals, that plan has been shelved, either setting up a referendum later on in 2016 or holding off until 2017. 

The move will reassure combatants on both sides. As Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, told the New Statesman in a recent interview, holding the contest in May would mean that Welsh voters would have "four ballots, with four different electoral systems", and could scupper any hope of a joint pro-European campaign: "You can't attack Plaid Cymru one day and share a platform with them the next". But it will also cheer Eurosceptics, who feared that a quick referendum would see the contest defined as Ukip against the rest, leaving them little chance of taking Britain out of Europe. "We don't have our best suit and tie on yet," fretted one Eurosceptic MP recently. 

The reality is that it is pressure from that quarter, not concern from the devolved legislatures or pressure from Labour, that has forced Cameron's hand. It all feels more reminiscent than he would like of the last time the Conservatives won a majority, in 1992. Then, as now, it briefly looked as if Labour would never govern again, before European division torn the Tory party apart. That Cameron, at the peak of his powers, has already been forced into two European U-Turns, delaying his plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, and lengthening the timetable for the referendum, suggests the same may happen to him,

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.