Claims a general election must be discounted and new referendum more likely are way off target
Claims by advocates of a new referendum that a general election is unlikely – and therefore all attention must be on ‘resisting Brexit’ and pushing for a new public vote – are as inaccurate as they are predictable. Even a cursory look at the parliamentary landscape shows why.
There is no majority in Parliament, nor anything approaching one, for a new referendum, ‘confirmatory vote’ or any of the other titles allocated to the idea.
Public vote motions have been put forward four times in the Commons – one three of those occasions, Labour’s leadership imposed a ‘three-line whip’ on MPs to support it – the strongest parliamentary discipline available – in line with the party’s conference policy.
On all four occasions the motions were convincingly defeated.
Most Tory MPs are either pro-Brexit or else know that any perceived attempt to prevent it would be the kiss of death to their careers, as most Tory members are strong ‘leavers’.
In addition, a clear majority of Labour’s MPs represent seats that voted leave in 2016. Many of them have already refused to support a new vote, which their constituents would consider an attempt to disenfranchise and ignore them.
That situation will not change until there is a general election.
The next Tory leader and unelected Prime Minister will be a ‘Brexit ultra’, either Boris Johnson or someone even more determined to take the UK out of the EU.
All that leader will need to do in order to secure a no-deal Brexit is nothing – if no deal is reached and no extension requested and granted, the UK will leave the EU without a deal at the end of 31 October.
Even if a majority among MPs were suddenly to materialise in favour of a new referendum, under no imaginable circumstances will a Tory leader, elected by the party’s members on a promise of pushing through Brexit, ever allow the option of one to come to a vote.
Remember, all s/he needs to do is nothing – and Theresa May already broke the taboo against governments simply running away and hiding from votes they don’t think they can win.
The new PM would not even have to do nothing for very long. With summer recess approaching and then the suspension of parliamentary activity for the autumn conference season, much of the time between now and Halloween is already killed and a new PM could easily avoid special measures to cancel either.
Pro-remain commentators and activists are singing from the same hymn sheet as Tony Blair, who on Tuesday told Sky News that Tories would receive such a punishment from the electorate that they would never call a general election and that therefore a new referendum is the only chance of change. But a new referendum is far more remote, as shown above.
There is no parliamentary support for a new referendum and no way to be sure of even forcing a vote.
Many analysts believe a new PM will call a general election in the hope of changing the parliamentary arithmetic. But even if a new Tory PM refused to do so in hope of gaining a mandate for a hard Brexit, there is a way for the matter to be taken out of her/his hands: the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA).
The FTPA includes a provision for a vote of no confidence in the government – and if it passes, a new general election is triggered just two weeks later, if no new ‘confidence’ government can be formed. For all the reasons outlined above, no such new government could be formed as it would face exactly the same situation.
Such a no-confidence motion also requires no large Commons majority – under the FTPA it only has to pass by half plus one of MPs who participate in the vote.
If a new PM attempts to kill time up to the no-deal cliff edge, there is no way for MPs to force any referendum motion to a vote. But – if the leader of the opposition, a certain Mr Jeremy Corbyn MP, tables a motion of no confidence under the FTPA, the Speaker must make time for it and the motion must be voted on.
(3) An early parliamentary general election is also to take place if—
(a) the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (4), and
(b) the period of 14 days after the day on which that motion is passed ends without the House passing a motion in the form set out in subsection (5).
(4) The form of motion for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) is—
“That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”The FTPA’s wording concerning a no-confidence motion
Corbyn has already tabled one such motion earlier this year. It was defeated. But faced with the no-deal cliff edge and an intransigent PM, enough Tory MPs may well support the no-confidence motion, or at least abstain, to allow it to pass. If Labour MPs and those of other parties vote for the motion, it can pass.
A successful motion of no confidence cannot be guaranteed – but putting one to MPs for a vote can.
There is no such equivalent route to guarantee putting a binding referendum motion to a parliamentary vote – and little time to pass the required legislation to start organising one before Halloween anyway.
Contrary to the narrative – or propaganda – being pushed by the ‘stop-Brexiters’ and their media helpers, a general election is far more likely than a new referendum.
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