Sam Gyimah’s resignation means that a People’s Vote could well happen

It is now plausible that there could be enough Conservative votes for a second referendum to outweigh Labour opponents of the idea. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Sam Gyimah has resigned as universities minister – and the chances of another referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union have just gone up considerably as a result.
Gyimah, who has been the MP for East Surrey since 2010, has said that the proposed accord between the United Kingdom will leave the country “worse off, transformed from rule makers into rule takers”, and described the agreement as a “loss of sovereignty the public will rightly never accept”. Although he has not explicitly come out in favour of another referendum, he has said “we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of asking the people again what future they want”.

Why is this significant? Although Gyimah voted to Remain in 2016, he is no-one’s idea of a flag-waving pro-European, with his commitment to staying in as much about his political closeness to David Cameron, to whom Gyimah served as parliamentary private secretary. He is a party loyalist by instinct and someone who was steadily moving up the ranks. He is much further down any putative list of would-be second referendumers than Jo Johnson, who recently quit and explicitly called for a fresh vote on the United Kingdom’s EU membership. It means that a big enough Tory rebellion to secure a referendum re-run even with some Labour MPs voting against is now a plausible, albeit narrow, possibility.

Gyimah’s exit will further underline that there is no chance at all that the withdrawal agreement will pass parliament, and with he and so many other of the Tory party’s “soft Remainers” essentially ruling out the loss of sovereignty that a Norway-type Brexit would involve, a people's vote may now be the only other option that has any chance of securing a parliamentary majority as it stands.

As for Theresa May’s deal, it confirms what we already know: that it has no chance at all of passing the House of Commons.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.