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12 January 2018

Nigel Farage’s suggestion for a second referendum would struggle to pass Parliament

Brexit continues to have a number of powerful guarantors on both the left and the right.

By Stephen Bush

Best of three? Nigel Farage has suggested that “maybe, just maybe” a second referendum on the terms of the United Kingdom’s exit deal is the best way to settle the issue. Adding to the drama, it comes as a ComRes poll for the Mirror shows Remain overcoming Leave outside the margin of error for the first time.

It has sparked furious debate over whether the poll is any good, about how the referendum would play out and what it would mean for our chances of getting The Best Deal (™). Which is all very diverting, but of course, the thing about Farage is that he’s not an MP. (Not for lack of trying.)

Any conversation about a second referendum has to start with a meaningful analysis of how you get 325 MPs to vote for it and how you get that vote in the first place. Brexit continues to have a number of powerful guarantors: Eurosceptics on the Conservative backbenches, Eurosceptics in the Labour leadership, pro-Remain Labour MPs in Leave-heavy seats who don’t want to go the way of all flesh, to name just a few.  Not only do you have to overcome all of that, but you have to overcome it all multiple times in a new referendum bill.

You can see how, if the next election results in a Labour government with no parliamentary majority, which feels like the most likely outcome at the moment, a referendum on re-entry might be the cost of doing business with the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Greens.  

But as another election founders on the same rock as a soft Brexit – the unwillingness of pro-European Conservative MPs to damage their own government – that looks like a path to reversing rather than stopping Brexit

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