Frustrated Remainers wanted a second referendum – or what they ludicrously call a ‘people’s vote’, on the basis, presumably, they think the last referendum was decided by cloven-hoofed beasts and potted plants. Well, on Thursday, they are going to get one – by proxy. There is no point in the European Parliament elections, choosing candidates who may never even take their seats. Everyone knows this – even the Lib Dems aren’t really bothering to plug their European manifesto, but trying to reel in the votes of frustrated Remainers who would like the Brexit vote overthrown. Instead, the election is being interpreted for one purpose alone: as a second referendum.
And it is not looking good for the forces of Remain. There will effectively be three choices available on Thursday: hard Brexit, soft Brexit and Remain. The first is represented by the Brexit party and Ukip, the second by the Conservatives and Labour, whose official policies favour some sort of half in-half out deal, be it a customs union or Theresa May’s backstop. The third option, remain, is represented by the Lib Dems, the Greens and Change UK.
So how do the figures stack up? Polling analysis for the Daily Telegraph today puts hard Brexit on 35 per cent (Brexit party 32 per cent plus Ukip 3 per cent), soft Brexit on 32 per cent (Conservative 11 per cent, Labour 21 per cent), and Remain 26 per cent (Lib Dem 15 per cent, Green 7 per cent and ChangeUK 4 per cent).
It is a pretty similar story with other polls. An Opinium poll on 14 May put hard Brexit on 38 per cent, soft Brexit on 32 per cent and Remain 24 per cent. A Comres poll on 18 May was less bad news for the Remain ticket, although it still came in as the least popular option – hard Brexit was on 29 per cent, soft Brexit 28 per cent and Remain 25 per cent.
Of course, these are only polls. Maybe by next Sunday evening – when the votes are counted – this great mythical body of people who voted Leave in 2016 and who have since come to regret their vote will have mobilised and will swing the election in Remain’s favour. But I wouldn’t count on it. The conceit that Remain would win a second referendum may have taken hold in the minds of some people, but it is really just a sign of how far Westminster has become divorced from the views of the country as a whole.
As I have argued here before, there is a lot to be said for breaking the impasse in parliament by putting the decision back to the British people in another referendum – so long, that is, that it included the option of a no-deal Brexit and allowed first and second preference votes (something which many Remainers want to exclude, of course, by making it a straight choice between Remain and either May’s deal or some other half-in, half-out arrangement).
Had the Conservatives called a three-way referendum I think they would have saved their own necks – and would not be facing the meltdown which now seems inevitable, perhaps removing them from power for at least a decade. As for the result of such a referendum, I am pretty sure it would not have been to Remain.