Tuesday 2 April 2019 - People's Vote

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Morning Briefing: People's Vote only sensible solution - prepare for European elections - civil service returns fire

A public vote on any type of Brexit is now the most obvious compromise solution to break the deadlock in Parliament. Last night’s failure by MPs to rally behind any Brexit scenario was yet more proof that no form of Brexit meets the promises of the referendum. And if voters aren’t getting what they were sold, this thing must be put back to the people.

The motion calling for a confirmatory referendum on Brexit once again won the most backers in Parliament yesterday. The idea is gaining momentum, with a narrower margin of defeat than last week - 280 for versus 292 against.

And remember, a People’s Vote is not an option in the Brexit crisis - it is the solution to the crisis. It is a clear way to break the stalemate: MPs must pick an option and then put it to the people.

But which option to choose? That will require more time and a longer extension from the EU so we can properly kick the tyres of these various proposals. The “soft Brexit” options voted on yesterday didn’t win a majority because they are trade offs. While each one satisfies some Brexit problems - protecting jobs, for example, or keeping the Irish border open - they fall down on others, in particular on sovereignty and turning us into rule-takers.

Then there’s Theresa May’s deal, which of course is the only deal that has actually been negotiated. That decision will probably be taken at a marathon five-hour cabinet meeting today.

It's clear that Brexit must be put to the people. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the People's Vote campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.

May’s deal has already had plenty of scrutiny and been found wanting time and again. It was voted down again last week by 58 votes - although now some hardline Tory Brexiters are regretting lending it their support, with Richard Drax even putting his apology on record in the Commons.

If the prime minister really wants to get her deal over the line then a confirmatory referendum could be the thing that wins her the numbers, breaking free of her reliance on the Brextremist ERG by appealing to pro-Europeans. May has rejected the idea before, of course, but when has that stopped her making a u-turn?

Philip Hammond is in favour of the idea, according to The Times. The chancellor is expected to tell Cabinet today that the government must make its own compromise solution or admit failure “and put it back to the people in a referendum”.

Even some Tory Brexiters now see a new referendum as the only way to break the deadlock, for example Huw Merriman who backed Peter Kyle’s motion yesterday with a “great degree of self loathing” because “Parliament is unable to reach a majority and make a decision”.

The other option on the cabinet table today will be a general election. There are no signs that this is very popular - it wastes more time, is unlikely to settle anything, and risks obliterating the Tory party. If the government wants a democratic solution, a People’s Vote is a much better bet.

But on a fundamental level, it would be a mistake for Parliament to impose any deal on the people, now that we know it cannot meet the expectations raised for Brexit. A confirmatory referendum on any form of Brexit is now the sensible compromise solution to this crisis.

Tweet of the Day

Preparing for European elections

One of the barriers to the EU granting the UK a long extension before the next Article 50 deadline of April 12 is participation in the European Parliament elections. Theresa May has made clear she’s against this. Nevertheless her deputy, David Lidington, is already preparing for for these elections as a “contingency” plan, The Times reports, urging returning officers to get ready and promising to reimburse any “reasonable expenses”.

This is welcome news. It would be ridiculous if the government used one democratic event as a means of preventing another one or made a final decision on leaving the EU on the basis that it wanted to avoid European elections. No party should shirk an encounter with the voters and those that move early and project a positive case for settling the Brexit issue through a People’s Vote could do really well.

Video of the Day

WATCH: This was projected onto Parliament last night.  The message is clear: It’s time for a People’s Vote.

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Civil service returns fire on Brexiters

Yesterday we saw the chief whip attacking cabinet ministers for their indiscipline. Today a war between the civil service and politicians has erupted into the open. Mark Sedwill, the most senior civil servant, has launched an unprecedented attack on Brexiters over their claims Whitehall is not doing enough to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. Sedwill described this as “nonsense” in a strongly worded letter to all other civil servants which was passed to The Times. Such a public confrontation between civil servants and politicians is highly unusual, and another sign of the immense strain the Brexit crisis is putting on our embattled institutions.

Quote of the Day

“The world is watching, and where the UK used to be a beacon for stability, we are now becoming a laughing stock.”

Juergen Maier, chief executive officer of Siemens UK, laments the UK’s reputation amongst global business in a letter to Politico.

Video of the Day 2

WATCH: Richard Harrington, a government minister until recently, backs holding a People’s Vote on Brexit to break the parliamentary gridlock.

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More Brexit news…

Conservative MP Nick Boles quits party after his soft Brexit plan fails (Guardian)

Brexit uncertainty has cost Britain £600 million a week - Goldman Sachs (Reuters)

EU to announce further no-deal measures as MPs fail to end impasse (Guardian)

Brussels to send bill for billions of pounds if UK crashes out with no deal (Telegraph)

Top Brexit comment

Lara Spirit: Norwegians can’t understand why we want a Norway-style deal (Times £)

Polly Toynbee: This is no time for a compromise with Brexiters: there is no middle way (Guardian)

Robert Shrimsley: A government of national unity is another Brexit fantasy (FT £)

Looking forward…

Today, Tuesday 2nd April 

- Extended Cabinet meeting
- MPs to discuss censuring Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings for refusing to give evidence to “fake news” inquiry.
09.30 ONS: Manufacturing sector performance 2008-2018
11.30 Foreign affairs questions in Commons

Tomorrow, Wednesday 3rd April 

09.00 Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay at Commons Brexit committee
09.30 Michael Gove at Lords' EU energy and environment committee to discuss no deal preparations. 
12.00 Prime Minister's Questions