It’s not been a great week for the People’s Vote campaign with several reports of internal rows and splits within the group. Today their attempts to bring about a second referendum hit another stumbling block. A faction of ‘People’s Vote’ backing MPs – including Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston and Labour’s Chuka Umunna – announced they are pulling their amendment calling for a second vote. Had they pressed on, there is a chance it would have been selected by the Speaker to be voted on next week.
Announcing the decision, Wollaston said:
‘With great regret, we will not be laying [an amendment calling for a second referendum] because at this stage, and until we have the leader of the opposition’s backing, it would would not pass.’
The campaign pointed the finger of blame at Jeremy Corbyn – calling on the Labour leader to formally back a vote. Now to anyone who has been counting the numbers, the conclusion that it wouldn’t pass ought to come as no surprise. Last week a mere 71 Labour MPs came out publicly in support of a second referendum. Even with the backing of SNP MPs and Lib Dems, this faction would fall well short of a Commons majority. It follows that some in the second referendum campaign were adamant that now was not the time to vote on the idea. Rather than showing mass support for the idea, there were concerns that it could actually kill the idea – by showing how few MPs would get behind it. Those voices won out as is shown today by the fact that Wollaston and co have pulled the amendment.
So, is the People’s Vote campaign dead in the water? Not yet. There are two reasons why second referendum campaigners are still optimistic about their chances. The first is that some leading figures don’t think they actually need to show a Commons majority yet. Instead, they believe that indicative votes on the other options – such as Norway plus – will show there is no majority for any option and the next logical step of that (in their view) is to put it to a public vote in order to break the deadlock. Secondly, there is a view that if other Brexit options are knocked out in the next few weeks – like Norway or May’s deal – support will only increase for a second referendum as there will be fewer choices. In other words, to many People’s Vote campaigners today’s move may have been embarrassing but it is also helpful in achieving the overall aim of being the last man standing.