Proponents of a second EU referendum are urgently trying to fight back against the impression that the plan might be doomed after a series of setbacks, arguing that it will gain renewed support as other options fall away.
A proposed cross-party amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit plan calling for a “people’s vote” was ditched due to limited support days before Tuesday’s Commons votes. MPs then dismissed other amendments aimed at giving the Commons more control over the process.
While conceding some damage, proponents insist that if May is unable to forge a consensus, the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit could focus minds.
“We know it’s often people’s second-best choice, not their first choice, so people will only come to it when other alternatives have been exhausted,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP. “We’re getting closer to the moment where what will be on the table is either no deal or a people’s vote, and at that point I think we’ll see a lot more people coming in.”
This would be the most democratic option – let the people decide on the efforts of the last two years.
While I would prefer this as the most democratic option, there are a lot of caveats. First, there is no current parliamentary majority for it, and only speculation that one could form before March 29.
Second, even if a parliamentary majority coalesced between now and then, who would frame the questions, and what should they be? Each of the multiple sides might insist on their own being included.
Third, even if the questions were decidable, there is no reason to suppose the ultimate vote would be any different, or even more decisive. For Remain to win and be conclusive, they’d need a bigger majority than Leave had before, and there is no guarantee of this, because even though public opinion has moved against Brexit, it’s not by such an overwhelming majority that MPs would be willing to risk more chaos in an indecisive outcome.
\I would argue that they should reframe the referendum structure, and use a single transferable vote strategy, rather than a blunt two-question position. Thus they could have three questions: Remain? Leave with some sort of customs union deal? Leave outright, consequences schmonsequences?
Voters would rank these options in preference, 1, 2 and 3. If no question received a majority on the first count, then the option that came last is eliminated, and the second preference of those ballots is then added to the top two, leading to a majority for one of the remaining options.
The STV or some version of it is more nuanced and fairer for all the positions involved, and acknowledges the result of the initial referendum, inviting people to reconsider based on the antics of the Tory and Labour front benches over the last two years,and the information that’s been revealed since then.
British pols, however, are wedded to the first past the post system as this preserves their seats and prevents more representative outcomes in parliamentary elections. Using it in a referendum this important would be a major precedent for them, and they would be hard put not to reform the electoral system in general for parliamentary elections to match. There’s already precedent in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in Northern Irish and Scottish local elections for doing it this way.
I am not sure a majority of Westminster MPs who hold their seats only by a plurality rather than a majority would be at all happy to see this.