Options for Anti-Brexiteers

Following March 27th’s indicative vote, when 268 MPs voted for a fresh referendum, Trevor Fisher highlights some of the key issues thrown up by recent polling and politics in the Parliamentary Labour Party

Splits within Labour could threaten a further referendum. The resignation last Wednesday of Melanie Onn as shadow minister after defying a three-line whip to vote against the proposal for a confirmatory ballot on any Brexit deal, along with the abstentions of three other shadows (including Jon Trickett), shows that Tom Watson is optimistic in arguing that Labour can gain by embracing a public vote.

Dialogue is needed with Labour colleagues who are for and against a further EU referendum.

Opinion poll gains at the Spring equinox

Commenting on new polling from the National Centre for Social Research showing that 54% of voters are now in favour of Remain, former YouGov president Peter Kellner declared that the last six months have seen a shift in opinion and that “supporters of a people’s vote have outnumbered opponents of the people getting the final say”.

The shift may be less favourable to Remain than appears, partly because parliament did not favour a third referendum. It is likely that without voters shifting then this would be difficult to overcome, and poll data is not showing large enough shifts – especially in Leave seats – to counter last-minute reversals. The poll data does not cover all voters, and the Leave tendency is both older than Remain and more likely to vote. The outcome is dependant on turnout and other factors which tend to favour Leave. Remain lost in 2016 for largely unexamined reasons – but these certainly include a failure to understand the underlying strength of Leave – and Millbank in particular is overconfident and lacks ground strength in Leave seats like my own, Stafford, not to mention the Stoke seats.

Leave’s underlying strength – Remain’s limits

In the opinion polls, the predictions of 2017 that Remain would need – and could get – a 60-40 split have not been fulfilled. It is surprising Leave is not in favour of a third referendum as it has proven campaign ability, and the Remain lead is too slim not to be vulnerable to a strong Brexit campaign  – in the Stoke by-election in 2017 UKIP easily matched Labour’s canvassing effort.

The demos and e-petitions have mobilised Remain supporters, but the million-strong March 23rd demo – while the biggest since the Iraq war demo – also points to the futility of demos as a method. Iraq mobilisation did not stop British involvement in the US attack. Many methods used by Remain predate the First World War and the use of the internet is limited largely to emails. The attempt by all Remain groups to exhort supporters by email to write to their MP is repetitive with little sign of being evaluated.

It has not worked if the state of parliament is assessed. Andrew Adonis told a European Movement meeting in Birmingham on 2nd February that around 160 MPs backed a third vote. This had risen to 268 by March 27th – and to 280 on 1st April – very slow progress and a real danger of No Deal.  He said the People’s Vote campaign will wait till the last moment, hoping that all other options will leave MPs no choice but to back it. This is a weak strategy as People’s Vote has not had open debate on its strategy, notably: (a) PV does not officially challenge the 2016 outcome; (b) the young voters who could turn around Leave’s majority are not sufficiently part of the campaign; (c) there is not enough effort to involve BAME voters.

Remain fails to understand the messianic quality of Leave and appears determined to ignore the data of Hope not Hate which shows how deep the commitment of Leavers is to their cause. Many Remain activists are equally messianic with no doubt at all that Remain would win a third referendum. A victory can be won – but not by exhortation. Be careful what you wish for!

Trevor Fisher

Trevor Fisher edits the Brexit Skeptic blog.