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All that Labour can unite on is opposition to a Chequers-type deal. The Labour leadership’s position makes perfect political sense for an opposition party: they would much rather have an early general election precipitated by the failure of the Commons to approve a Brexit deal than hold a second referendum on any deal. The expected outcome of a government failing to have a parliamentary majority for its central policy would be for that government to fall. Before the Coalition government’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act this would almost certainly have precipitated an early general election. Now things are more uncertain, but an early election would still be a strong possibility under those circumstances, and a possibility that one would assume any opposition party would seek to exploit.

Yet, instead of this being the preferred course of action most Labour MPs seem to prefer the idea of holding a second referendum, a so-called People’s Vote. There is no chance that May could survive as Prime Minister — after making her opposition to a second vote so clear — while changing her mind and agreeing to such a referendum, but such a vote is a theoretical alternative to an early election; you cannot do both.

So why are so many moderate Labour MPs such as Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasey so keen on a second referendum rather than an early election? There are three possibilities. They may believe it is more likely to be achieved. They would be wrong. It is conceivable that there would be a parliamentary majority for such a vote — if Labour, along with the other opposition parties who are already in the bag, could unite around it and the small band of Conservative Europhile rebels who already support it, including Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Justine Greening, continues to grow. What is not conceivable, if the Commons had voted for a second referendum, is that a Conservative government could implement it. The government would fall — and without a government in place the legislation would not be passed and we would be heading for an election anyway.

It is also possible that the Labour moderates do not trust that a Corbyn government, if elected in an early election, would stop Brexit or at least implement a softer Brexit more to their liking. These fears are legitimate. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has made clear he would not want the second referendum to offer the option of staying in the EU — for him this is very much the second-best option to a general election. He merely offers the option to accept or reject the deal that May negotiates, i.e. something completely different from what the People’s Voters want. The Corbyn cabal is all too aware that continued EU membership would make it extremely difficult to implement many of the policies closest to  Corbynista hearts, most notably renationalisation. It would also make it impossible to impose capital controls, something which would be absolutely vital for a left-wing Labour government if it sought to avoid an immediate economic crisis.
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Daniel Bamford.
November 9th, 2018
3:11 PM
Michael Mosbacher speculates on the possible emergence of a new ‘social democratic’ or ‘centrist’ party in British politics, as well as the viability of ‘a “clean Brexit” party’ (Politics, October 2018). I do no understand why Mr. Mosbacher limits himself to these tentative hypotheses, since a social democratic centrist party and a ‘clean Brexit’ party both already exist. The social democrat centrists are currently called the Liberal Democrats and a ‘clean Brexit’ was the founding principal of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are refreshingly united and open about their desire to keep the UK inside the EU by fair means or foul. Voters frustrated with the parliamentary impasse over the outcome of the 2016 EU Referendum are therefore presented with a clear choice: ‘Remainers’ should vote Liberal Democrat and ‘Leavers’ should vote UKIP.

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