ANDREW ADONIS: Labour must now lower the lifeboats
- Credit: AFP/Getty Images
'As of now, power resides not in No.10 but in the House of Commons. And it is precisely because power now lies in a leaderless body of 650 MPs, incapable of forging and agreeing a new Brexit, that I am so confident Brexit will be terminated.'
As of now, power resides not in No.10 but in the House of Commons. And it is precisely because power now lies in a leaderless body of 650 MPs, incapable of forging and agreeing a new Brexit, that I am so confident Brexit will be terminated.
A second referendum, gathering pace for a year as we've gone from Maybot to Mayday, is the most likely mechanism for this. And the two Ms – Momentum and McDonnell – are the keys to getting us to where we need to be next week (a second referendum).
Consider four critical facts:
1) In Tuesday's historic Commons vote of 432-202 to reject May's deal, fewer than 10 Tory MPs not in the pay of the government supported her.
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2) Despite this, May won a motion of confidence from the same House of Commons that eviscerated her policy.
3) In an immediate election on Brexit, there would be three Conservative parties: the 'May deal' party, the Rees-Mogg 'no-deal' party, and the Grieve 'no Brexit' party. So an election probably won't happen, while the tension between the three Tory factions keeps May just about alive.
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4) Brexit isn't needed to respond to any 'real existing' crisis at home or abroad; nor is it being forced on us by external events or power. The relevant analogy isn't the appeasement crisis of the 1930s (where something had to be done in response to Hitler; the status quo wasn't an option), but rather the poll tax crisis which brought down Margaret Thatcher (where revoking it outright was the solution, once the majority of Conservative MPs mustered the resolve).
These four facts explain where we are at:
May has lost control of Brexit in spectacular, unprecedented fashion (see point 1). In normal circumstances a leadership change and/or an election would follow. But this is unlikely unless the Conservative party has a death wish (3). So having survived motions of confidence in her party before Christmas, and in parliament this week (2), the most credible way forward is for May and parliament simply to drop Brexit (4), most likely through a referendum.
Having proceeded painfully slowly until now, the Brexit crisis now accelerates fast because of two deadlines – the legal requirement for May to table a new policy motion in parliament next week, which can be amended. And the deadline of March 29 either to leave the EU or revoke or secure an extension of Article 50.
If Labour moved rapidly from motion of confidence to People's Vote, we could be into a referendum within days. That requires John McDonnell, who is veering towards a second vote, to persuade his ally Jeremy, together with pressure from Corbyn's Momentum grass roots campaign, which is increasingly anti-Brexit.
If this doesn't happen, then the lowest common dominator to unite a cross-party parliamentary majority will be for an extension or revocation of Article 50 to avoid crashing out with no deal, and to give more time for the House of Commons to negotiate with itself.
As this happens, the realisation will dawn that the thing about Brexit is that the status quo – no Brexit – is not only viable but the only workable option. And a referendum is the lifeboat to get from the Brexit wreckage to the shore.
The analogy of the lifeboat is Harold Wilson's, when he seized on a referendum to resolve Labour's civil war on Europe in the mid-1970s. The lifeboat is being lowered from the Titanic. Let's clamber in fast!
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