A second referendum is usually seen as a way of stopping Brexit. Many of those arguing for a “People’s Vote” are quite open about not wanting to leave the EU. However, given the current deadlock, could it instead by the best – perhaps only – way to make Brexit happen? In this blog, Anthony McGann (University of Strathclyde) explains why Brexit won’t happen without another referendum.
The current deadlock is not in the slightest surprising – at least when analysed in terms of game theory. It is a direct result of the decision by the European Court of Justice on December 10, 2018 that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 and abort the Brexit process. Before this decision, the Prime Minister’s strategy made sense – just give Parliament a simple choice between the Deal negotiated with the EU and a No Deal Brexit. The UK had invoked Article 50 March 29, 2017. Therefore a No Deal Brexit would automatically happen two years later unless a deal was agreed. Parliament faced the simple choice below:
Either Parliament supports the deal agreed with the EU, or there is a no deal Brexit. Faced with this choice, Parliament (and in particular the Labour Party) would have no choice but to support the deal. All this changed when the European Court of Justice found that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50. The threat of a No Deal Brexit ceased to be credible. Instead, Parliament faced the situation below:
Now if Parliament rejects the Deal, they are not confronted with the certainty of a No Deal Brexit. Instead, they have a second decision: Revoke Article 50 or face a No Deal Brexit. Given that choice, they would almost certainly revoke Article 50, halting Brexit. The fact that Parliament does not like the idea of revoking Article 50 and voted against it in an indicative vote is irrelevant. The point is that they would vote for it if they were really staring the possibility of No Deal Brexit in the face. The point of having a non-binding vote March 13, 2019 to rule out No Deal Brexit was to show that there was a majority that would do exactly that. This changes everything when Parliament considers whether to support the Deal. Parliament knows that if it votes to reject the Deal, the eventual outcome is revoking Article 50 and no Brexit. Therefore the real choice is between the Deal and no Brexit, as we can see below. It is now safe for Parliament to reject the Deal.
Of course, many of those in the Conservative Party who have voted against the Deal favour a hard Brexit, or even a No Deal Brexit. Surely these people will vote for the Deal, when they see that the only alternative is no Brexit at all? This has happened to some extent. Indeed Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chair of the European Research Group, last week stated that he would support the Deal for exactly this reason. After regretting that No Deal is no longer an option, he stated, “…No Deal is better than Mrs May’s Deal, but Mrs May’s Deal is better than not leaving at all.” However, this logic is unlikely to lead to the Deal passing. The DUP has fundamental problems with backstop provisions in the Deal, and there are Eurosceptic Conservatives who have said the Deal is worse than remaining in the EU (Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have both articulated this position).
Last week the Prime Minister promised to resign if the Deal (this time just the Withdrawal Agreement without the Political Declaration) was approved by Parliament. Although the Deal was defeated for the third time, it was supported by numerous Conservatives who had previously opposed it, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab. Many commentators explained these switches in terms of personal ambition. However, the Prime Minister’s promise to resign does make the Deal far more attractive to hard Brexiters quite apart from career considerations.
A Conservative leadership contest changes the consequences of accepting the Deal. After Parliament accepts the Deal, the next move goes to the Conservative Party. If it elects of Pro-Deal leader, then we get Brexit with a Deal. However, if it supports a No Deal leader, this leader can take a hard line in the trade negotiations with the EU that come after Brexit, and fail to come to an agreement. This would produce something like a No Deal Brexit after the transition period runs out. This gives us the situation below:
If we assume that a Conservative leadership contest will produce a hard Brexit leader (which seems likely, but is certainly not inevitable), then the consequence of Parliament supporting the Deal will effectively be a No Deal Brexit after the transition period. Thus, the choice before Parliament is between supporting the deal and getting effectively a No Deal Brexit down the road, and rejecting the Deal and getting No Brexit. This is illustrated below:
In these circumstances, we would expect Parliament to reject the Deal. Even under a new Conservative leader, the Deal will still contain the backstop, so the DUP will vote against it. The prospect of a hard Brexit Conservative leader will do nothing to gain the support of Labour MPs. Indeed, if the government was able to win over the DUP and its own hard Brexit MPs, it is possible that moderate Conservatives who voted for the Deal on Friday 29th March may have second thoughts.
It does not look like the deadlock in Parliament is going to be broken – it is possible that a No Deal Brexit could happen by miscalculation, but this seems unlikely. However, there is one way in which this deadlock could be broken in favour of leaving the EU. This is through another referendum. If the People voted for a specific Brexit plan (the Deal or No Deal), there would be no ambiguity. Parliament would be bypassed. True, the opinion polls do give Remain a slight lead currently, but this is small and could certainly be overturned in a campaign. After all, the opinion polls gave Remain a lead before the 2016 referendum.
This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image by Elroy Serrao, Some rights reserved.
Anthony J. McGann is Professor of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde.
Leaving the EU and putting in place only the rules they later make which we think would benefit the UK.
Why would the UK ( well the Remainers) want to vote to follow all future EU rules and regulations, Especially when we have such little control within the EU and the direction it seems to be going.
I give way to allow others to speak.
We are the dominant group in the EU along with Germany. The UK has tabled or voted in favour of most of the EU agreements. We’ve not fallen foul of many and have vetoed the few that we do,.
The UK is growing to a majority small business and freelance workforce – and this is almost entirely off the back of the EU. financial services, film industry, music industry, games.. all very big industries with many many small players. I’m unsure how anyone doesnt want to be part of the EU. What we need more than any EU confrontation is internal poverty reformation and an overhaul of media ownership (ban external ownership completely – no Russian oligarchs please).
There are way more important issues for the UK than EU membership and opposing the ever move towards the right should our prime concern along with ensuring we remain the thorn in the side of USA, Russian and Chinese world dominance.
Brexit wont happen … here’s why :
a) The house of lords swore allegiance to the European union.
b) Too many MEPs and MPs get their gravy train pension from the EU
c) London overrides whatever the rest of the country thinks or wants
d) We have a public that voted for brexit, and a parliament that doesn’t want brexit
e) We are basically incompetent when it comes to negotiation
f) We had a PM who was willing to lick EU boots and give them whatever they want
g) Hunt loves the EU and only changed his tune when it suited him politically
h) The UK government (read Theresa May) made a secret deal with EU to extend brexit for 5 years in the hope that it will never happen
One way of breaking the logjam would be to hold an indicative vote as a secret ballot. That way we would find out what MPs really think rather than what they have been told to think by the whips. Having a secret ballot is normally not appropriate but for an indicative vote which is only advisory, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible. It would then be up to MPs to subsequently hold an open vote on the favoured option and justify themselves if they don’t get a consistent outcome. According to a BBC expert who knows MPs’ private views, the matter could be resolved in 10 minutes with a secret ballot.
Otherwise, I would favour a General Election. At present MPs have a far larger Remain bias than the electorate. A General Election would give voters the chance to redress the balance.
A General Election would not redress the balance as is clearly shown by the presence of MPs who personally voted Leave while the constituents voted by majority to remain, and the MP still argues publically to leave, thus not representing the people who voted them in as MPs. The same is true the other way round. And, perhaps most perverse is the MP who personally voted ‘remain’ as did her constituents and then leads a Government engaged on leaving the EU.
Would these MPs step down at a General Election? Almost certainly not. And then it would not be ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ that decided who was re-elected, it would be which party the electorate wanted in their constituency.
I disagree. At the last election MPs who were in a Leave constituency but supported Remain were rather coy about their views and vice versa but now following the publication of indicative votes the electors are far better informed. I think in marginal seats, Remain/Leave will be the deciding factor because it will only need a few people to vote on a non Party basis to swing things.. Also there are some 13 or more seats where MPs have left their Party whip. They will have to beat candidates from their previous party as well as the opposition. They are all Remain so they can expect Leavers to stand against them. I expect Remain to lose 13 seats to Leave which is a swing of 26 votes in Parliament.
To amplify my previous comment. General Elections are determined by swing voters in marginal seats. By definition, swing voters do not have strong party allegiances. Some of them are likely to vote according to their Brexit view and the record of the sitting MP in the indicative vote.
If, as you say, there is a strong pro-Remain bias amongst MPs, wouldn’t an anonymous indicative vote just produce a vote to remain? I suspect there are a lot of MPs who would be very happy if someone else called off Brexit, although they would not dare do this openly themselves. I am not sure that a General Election would fix much. Both parties are so divided on the issue, so I am not sure what the result would show. The fact that both parties are positioning themselves for the next election may well be why nothing is getting done. Some pro-Remain Conservatives have been deselected, so we might get a bit more polarisation.
An interesting proposition but it ignores two very important points. First, a second referendum would included a very large number of young voters who could not vote last time. Polls suggest that the majority of these would vote ‘Remain’. Second, the 2016 vote was made by people being told lies by both sides and with a very poor understanding of what actual Brexit might mean. It is quite possible that the UK Electorate, now that it knows the negatives, might, with another referendum, or a people’s vote, vote remain.
You may be right. But the polls still suggest that a vote would be close. I think this would actually a good thing. Either side could win, but the result would be definitive.
“Either side could win, but the result would be definitive.” Come on, you don’t really believe that if a second referendum result were close (as seems likely) the losers would all accept the result, do you? I think the last referendum was meant to settle the EU question and look where it got us.
Or to put it another way, those who want just one more referendum to finally settle Brexit are like alcoholics who say they’ll quit after the next drink.
Personally I would like a 10 year moratorium on referenda until the UK can work out how to conduct them. Parliamentary democracy may not be great but it’s better than the alternatives.
It is worth noting that all of those who are now calling for a referendum are the same parties who voted against the constituency boundary review in 2013. Suddenly those same parties now think that representative democracy is a great idea (but only if it unrepresentative).
Yes, but realignment in Scotland removed the previous Labour advantage anyway. In 2015, the Conservatives got a majority with just 37% (only 2% more than Tony Blair in 2005). I’m afraid our first-past-the-post electoral system is not very representative, no matter what you do to it.
There are two contrary considerations.
There are remain voters who believe that the first referendum should stand and so on a matter of principle will not vote again.
Many voters are sick to the teeth of Brexit and the arguments. A Remain win will continue the controversy, a Leave win will kill the arguments (if not the whinging). Vince Cable for example has already indicated that the Liberal Party would move on to other issues if Leave win again. The Leave side on the other hand will make it abundantly clear during their campaign that only a Leave vote can finish the wrangling. It will be one of their strongest campaigning points.
It wont kill the argument. Most small business and just about all remaining big business would lobby for a new membership. And so we’ll circle again. Perhaps EU memberhsip needs to be overhauled – 4 year memberships etc
You see will be extremely difficult to have no borders with Brexit unless you apply for concessions. Gibraltar is also a massive problem because will be a border, what do you do when there is 10000 Spain subjects place 4000 Eu citizens come to work in Gibraltar and some Gibraltarians going to Spain to work too. And because of the geophysics of Uk, that will be a threat to the Union.. the big UK companies were sold years ago, now around 40% are multinational or foreign companies who provide employment alike Honda,Rover,Peugeot, mini, etc..because of this uncertainty that will cause crippling up the economic and Sterling keep going down. There is so much problems related to brexit, that you need to be clear about the future of country..