A Cabinet Office source tells me today No. 10 is considering agreeing a second referendum with three choices: No Deal Brexit, May’s Deal or No Brexit. It would be by alternative vote, ie you rate your preferences 1, 2. The thinking is that the first round might go No Deal 23, May’s Deal 37, No Brexit 40. The second round would then go May’s Deal 60, No Brexit 40.
They claim there is opinion poll evidence to support this. But I see a flaw. It is predicated on the current situation, where a lot of Remainers are prepared to support Brexit, to respect the referendum result. But surely a second referendum would release that psychological constraint and the overwhelming majority of Remainers would seize the opportunity to try and ditch Brexit?
The advantage of the ploy from May’s viewpoint is that it presents her “deal” as the only alternative to No Deal or No Brexit, and in an AV vote the compromise position is always boosted. What is more it keeps the numerous other options for deals outwith her red lines – eg EFTA, Single Market, Customs Union, EEA – all off the ballot paper. This limited choice referendum thus appeals to May as “out-maneuvering” the opposition parties. The idea is to sucker them in to talk on a second referendum, then produce this slanted one.
This has not been adopted as policy yet, but No.10 and the Cabinet Office are working on the practicalities of this option.
There will almost certainly be a vote on a second referendum amendment in the government motion debate now starting on 29 January. One very close adviser to Jeremy Corbyn is suggesting to him that he gives a free vote, in order to prevent the row that the convoluted Conference motion tried to put off by focusing on process not substance, but on which time is running out. The adviser’s take is that the Tories will whip against the “People’s Vote” and a Labour free vote will lead to the second referendum being defeated. He was not however aware of the possibility the Tories will push their version of a second referendum, and I was able to brief him on that.
Today I walked down to Tesco to get my milk and, as every day, I passed the huddle of homeless people who sleep in the close. It illustrated vividly how disconnected Westminster is from the very real problems of desperate poverty that exist in our society. Observing the UK in the last phases of decline of a once great Empire, with its entirely dysfunctional political system and its fractured society, I cannot shake the impression of how small and sordid it all is.