ANDREW ADONIS: Second referendum will be last man standing

PUBLISHED: 11:18 30 January 2019

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking about the government's Brexit deal. Photograph: PA Wire.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking about the government's Brexit deal. Photograph: PA Wire.

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May is likely lose the next big Commons vote. ANDREW ADONIS believes a People's Vote remains the most likely outcome.

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Theresa May’s plan to get through Tuesday night did not even survive until Wednesday morning. It’s not just that no responsible EU would ditch the Irish backstop – but no responsible UK would ask for it.

‘Dump Ireland’ is May’s equivalent of Cameron’s ‘dump free movement’, and her desperate brinkmanship with Merkel will bite the dust in the same way.

Incredibly, May has made the central issue of British and European politics in the next ten days: are we going to sacrifice Ireland, and risk a return to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in order to appease Brexit extremists and the DUP?

There can only be one answer. All the wrong people want to dump Ireland. All the right people want, instead, to see no-deal ruled out categorically and immediately, ending the panic and alarm at what will happen if the UK crashes out of the EU in eight weeks with no provisions even for business continuity.

There was a majority for this too in the House of Commons on Tuesday, but May chose to ignore that vote in announcing, afterwards, that she would seek to ditch the backstop.

Ruling out no-deal would involve an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period. This would give time and space to assess the only two sensible alternatives to May’s deal, which are a close permanent association with the EU or a second referendum with an option to Remain.

‘Dump Ireland’ destroys May’s last shred of credibility as an honest broker on Brexit. Since her deal was voted down a fortnight ago, she has adopted one policy alone: try and find a formula by which Rees-Mogg’s ERG extremists will support her. Plan B became Plan A plus a Rees-Mogg appeasement protocol.

MORE: Andrew Adonis - In praise of the backstop – Theresa May’s greatest triumph

MORE: Andrew Adonis - Labour must now lower the lifeboats

An opening to the centre – in the form of immediately ruling out no-deal, then talks with the opposition and Tory moderates on all options including a referendum – was ruled out because the ERG threatened mayhem.

May tells those close to her that maintaining Tory unity is key, otherwise Corbyn gets in. If Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement have to be sacrificed, so be it – although this last bit is camouflaged in euphemistic talk of “alternative arrangements”.

This isn’t only putting party before country. Ultimately it will undermine the Conservatives, because if the party loses its reputation for economic competence and pragmatic good government, it destroys everything in the Tory brand apart from English nationalism. And chauvinistic English nationalism is what led it down the Brexit cul-de-sac in the first place.

But all is not lost. The EU will refuse to dump Ireland. May will probably lose her second ‘meaningful vote’ in a fortnight. If so, Article 50 will then have to be extended. And we will still probably get to a referendum as the last man standing.

Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential English eccentric, famously remarked that when the impossible has been eliminated, that only leaves the improbable. Which must be the truth.

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