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Why Theresa May might end up embracing a second referendum

29 November 2018

9:59 AM

29 November 2018

9:59 AM

There are few things in the Brexit debate that are not disputed. But there is one thing that pretty much everyone accepts: that Theresa May believes in her deal. She really does think it is the right answer to the referendum result. However, as I say in the magazine this week, her deal is unlikely to get through the Commons.

But what can May do given that she wants her deal to pass? Well, there is one route that might work for her: a second referendum. If the Commons won’t back her deal, then maybe the country will.

This would require a massive volte-face from May, and her exasperated reaction when asked about a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ shows she isn’t currently entertaining the idea. But it does offer a way to break the log jam in the way that another general election does not: remember two of the last three UK elections have delivered hung parliaments. A general election would also require May to split the Tory party, as she would have to threaten to deselect any candidate who wouldn’t commit to backing the withdrawal agreement.

Interestingly, a growing number of full-bore Brexiteers are optimistic that they could win a referendum in these circumstances. This means there might not be quite as much opposition to the idea of a three question, second referendum as expected. It is also worth noting that a DeltaPoll survey suggests that in a three question referendum, May’s deal would end up the winner.

I know that the idea of May proposing a second referendum seems outlandish—and I’m not suggesting that Number 10 are currently keen on the idea. But given that she can’t pivot to Norway having defined the referendum as being about free movement and that she doesn’t want either no deal or Remain, then what other options does she have? As Sherlock Holmes said, once you have eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. 


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