With a second referendum likely to be needed to break the logjam, Remainers need to hammer out the details now.
In Arthur Cash’s biography of that audacious 18th-century agitator for constitutional reform John Wilkes, the author remarks that Wilkes’s lifetime spanned “the American Revolution, which he admired, the French Revolution, which he hated, and the Industrial Revolution, which he did not know was happening”.
Let’s not be caught out this time. Revolution is in the air.
Indulge me, then, in a little crystal-ball-gazing, because it’s time to talk about referendums, who organises them, and how. Those who want a new referendum on Europe must face questions about how, when and by whom this still-anomalous bolt-on to our constitution is to be organised. If we Remainers are scornful of the Brexiteers’ refusal to propose an alternative, we must not make the same mistake ourselves.
This discussion is becoming urgent: another vote on Europe is moving fast from the highly unlikely to the distinctly possible. Let me suggest why.
Only the broad outlines can be discerned of the proposed exit deal that Theresa May’s negotiators and the EU are working on; but these will be a development of the “soft” Brexit proposal agreed at Chequers earlier this year. Hardline Brexiteers hate it. There is little enthusiasm anywhere for the plan. There is, however, a growing suspicion that this may be the only available common ground with EU negotiators. That’s why I’ve been writing since the beginning of August that Theresa May stands a fair chance of getting her proposals through parliament’s “meaningful vote” near the end of this year and I still think that. Staring into the muzzle of what could blast to smithereens a Tory government and very possibly Britain’s March 2019 exit from the EU, it would take nerves of steel (or brains of straw) not to blink first. Many Brexiteers will blink first.
But not all. Steel nerves and straw brains can be found among MPs in the European Research Group. A dozen of these irreconcilables could sink May’s proposals.