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22 January 2019

Don’t be fooled, Jeremy Corbyn’s “move towards a second referendum” doesn’t make one any more likely

For Labour, it’s clever politics. But for the People’s Vote campaign, it’s mostly bad news.

By Stephen Bush

Pop open the champagne at the People’s Vote campaign? Jeremy Corbyn has tabled an amendment calling for a series of indicative votes on ways to resolve the Brexit stand-off, including the option of holding a public vote on parliament’s final deal with the European Union.

For Labour, it’s clever politics: it makes it harder for critics of the leadership to argue that Corbyn is the major impediment to another referendum but it means that they don’t have to actually take the hit for supporting a referendum re-run either.

But for the People’s Vote campaign it is mostly bad news. Why? Because its biggest problem has never been Corbyn: but the substantial minority of Labour MPs who say they would vote against another referendum. By my count, Melanie Onn, a junior shadow minister, has become the 23rd Labour MP to explicitly state that they would vote against a second referendum. Remember that to overcome the government’s majority you need seven more Conservatives to vote against the government than Labour rebels voting for it, which brings the minimum requirement to 30.

And the reality of course, which is conceded by everyone at Westminster, is that there are many more Labour MPs than those publicly declared who are against a second referendum. The great hope for the People’s Vote campaign is that no other option can secure agreement either and that, in desperation, at the eleventh hour, a second referendum might become the only way out. But for that to happen they need to be the last alternative standing. 

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But the campaign’s reckoning might yet come too early. A cross-party amendment by official backers of the People’s Vote campaign is set to be tabled as well, with the consequence that by the end of next week a second vote will have been repudiated twice: once when Labour’s amendment is voted down and once when a cross-party amendment goes up in smoke too.

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