Corbyn could torpedo a second referendum – just by backing it

In spite of Sadiq Khan’s recent pronouncements, the Labour leadership may be right to resist the introduction of an explicit policy in support of a referendum on the Brexit deal with the EU.

Labour’s position is now fairly clear – some would say a model of clarity in today’s political climate. In the event that Theresa May’s deal fails to make it through parliament, the party’s preference is for a general election. That they should take that position is reasonable and to be expected.

But, with the Fixed Term Parliament Act in place, the likelihood of a general election without the support of the government is just about zero. And they know it.

When pressed on the referendum question, they respond that all options are on the table but, yet again, stress that a general election is preferable. This is code for saying that, when push comes to shove, they would likely support a vote for a new referendum.

If that’s the case, why not come out in favour of a referendum as they are being pressed to do by many of their younger supporters?

The reason is that, paradoxically, that might risk reducing the chances of winning a parliamentary vote on a new referendum.

Wot? one might well ask.

A vote in parliament to force a new referendum cannot be won without the support of some Tory rebels. If such a vote were to happen in the wake of a shambolic deal being presented shambolically to parliament followed by a shambolic set of debates, then both Labour and the Tory Brexit-sceptics would be perfectly justified in throwing their hands up in horror and saying that a referendum on the deal is the only way to resolve the shambolic shambles.

But the situation may be subtly different if a new referendum is official Labour policy. We are then in a situation where Tory rebels are seen not only to defy their own government but actively to vote for official Labour policy. Some may balk at that idea and votes may be lost.

It is time that the anti-Brexit youngsters stopped putting their obsessions ahead of practicality and the sensitivity associated with parliamentary voting patterns.

Of course, it could all go pear-shaped. Refusal to make a referendum official policy may simply be a way for Corbyn Euroscepticism to make sure we exit the EU at any cost. But my money is on the alternative.

But hey, who knows. It may be foolish to try to make any sense of the shambles we’re in – never mind the shambles yet to come.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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