Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
16 January 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 1:41pm

Will the defeat of Theresa May’s deal lead to a second referendum?

It’s hard to see a majority in parliament for passing another vote on our EU membership.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The government’s withdrawal deal has been defeated by a majority of 230, and some MPs backing the “People’s Vote” campaign will hope the alternative that emerges is a second referendum, as MPs fear a no-deal Brexit and go for another vote as a last resort.

But there is currently no majority for a second referendum in parliament, and as MPs haven’t yet come up with an alternative to a no-deal Brexit or Theresa May’s deal that could win a majority in the Commons, it’s unlikely a majority will suddenly appear for a second referendum.

Labour has put down a no-confidence motion in the government after its deal was defeated, which will happen on Wednesday at 7pm. If Labour then loses (which it most likely would, without the DUP onside), then it will be under pressure to campaign for a second referendum – as its official policy is to consider this option among others should it fail to force a general election. If the Labour frontbench officially campaigned for a second referendum, it would boost the chances of one – but Jeremy Corbyn has shown so far that he’s reluctant to back the idea, and anyway it’s unlikely he could whip for it, considering the small number of Labour MPs who are on board.

A second referendum would be very difficult to get through parliament. I explain the legislative process here. Political reality means it’s unlikely there will be a majority required to pass the legislation, or extend Article 50 to make time for the process (the UCL’s Constitution Unit estimates it would take 22 weeks from beginning legislation to polling day).

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
The shrinking road to net zero
The tree-planting misconception
Is your business ready for corporate climate reporting?