What a noisy week in politics. The Tory leadership contest is now fully underway, with contenders trying to out-Brexit each other with their visions of how to get Britain out the EU. There’s even been the threat from some Brexiteers to prorogue parliament, much to the outrage of many. But there are some Remainers watching smugly as events unfold. Because with every twist and turn, a people’s vote looks increasingly like the only solution.
Before he dropped out of the Tory leadership race, Sam Gyimah let slip that a growing number of Conservative MPs have admitted, albeit privately, that a second referendum is the only way to resolve Brexit. And those outside of parliament are preparing. The Electoral Commission has drawn up contingency plans in order to respond quickly to any unscheduled poll.
For Remain parties like mine – the Liberal Democrats – we are practically popping the champagne cork. Because how can we not have a second referendum?
Parliament just hasn’t got the maths to crash out without a deal. Despite the chronic disarray within the Labour party, there is a determination to prevent the disaster of a no-deal scenario. Yesterday’s motion may have failed, but only by a whisker, and it is clear that MPs will do all they can to block no-deal from coming to pass.
As for proroguing parliament to push a no deal through, Commons speaker John Bercow has said it’s “blindingly obvious” that this won’t happen.
This leaves few other options. We could revoke Article 50, which would not require the permission of the other 27 member states, but that would be political suicide for the new leader.
We could seek alternative arrangements for the Irish border to replace the backstop, as many of the Conservative leadership hopefuls say that they can and will do. But this is a complete fantasy. The EU has said over and over again that the backstop is not up for renegotiation.
And even if the EU were open to the idea, there simply isn’t enough time. Whoever the next Prime Minister is, they won’t be in office until late July, and will have to renegotiate the deal with Brussels and get it passed by parliament – all before 31 October, alongside the threat of a General Election.
So that leaves the third and only other solution: a people’s vote on the direction of Brexit. And if that happens, I believe that support for stopping Brexit entirely would outweigh the other options.
When Britain first went to the polls in 2016, a no-deal Brexit was not on the cards. Now three years later, the electorate knows that the only Brexit choices are the terms of Theresa May’s widely unpopular withdrawal agreement, or crashing out, with all the economic and political chaos that entails.
Last week’s by-election result in Peterborough was evidence that the public’s mind has shifted. The Brexit Party, despite its success in the European elections, came second.
This might sound good at first, until you take into account that Peterborough is a Leave constituency.
The Brexit Party got a vote share of 30 per cent – in a constituency which voted 60 per cent Leave in the 2016 referendum, you would have expected it to get higher. Even if you add in the votes for the Conservatives, it still only comes to 43 per cent – hardly a mandate for Brexit.
The European elections were widely heralded as a success for the Brexit Party. But look a little closer: the five collective Remain parties (including SNP and Plaid Cymru) outnumbered the collective votes of the Brexit Party and Ukip by 1.1m.
The country has never been more engaged in the Brexit debate. With parliament deadlocked and the government lacking both a leader and a mandate, the only way to deliver closure on this issue is a second referendum.
And if, as the recent trajectory suggests, the people show that they have changed their minds, Britain will finally be able to move on.