Third referendum could be decisive

Date: Monday 31st December 2018

Sir, Theresa May’s claim that asking people what they think of her Brexit deal would “break faith with the British people” must be one of the weirdest utterances she has ever made.

To claim that nobody has changed their minds on Brexit, as details of practicalities have emerged since June, 2016, is indefensible.

And denying two million new voters the chance to vote against being stripped of their rights as EU citizens would be criminal.

Nobody knows what the actual vote for an actual Brexit deal would be. Of the 52 per cent who voted Leave in 2016, some may have wanted to give Cameron and Osborne a bloody nose; many believed leaving would help the NHS rather than destroy it; polling suggests that 30 per cent of Leavers thought we could keep “the exact same benefits”; many believed that being in the EU restricted trade with the rest of the world (instead of giving us the benefits of the EU’s ever-expanding trade deals); and some may even have believed that Britain’s contribution to the modest EU budget was greater than its net gain from membership.

According to recent Populus polling data, 192 constituencies have switched sides since 2016, with all of Scotland, every Welsh seat but one, and over two thirds of all British constituencies now favouring Remain. According to YouGov, Remain now has a lead of 59 per cent to 41 per cent over May’s deal.

Among those “certain to vote”, the lead is 63 per cent to 37 per cent.

Leavers who oppose a third referendum have very good reason: they are pretty sure they would lose. Of course there is a hard core, perhaps as high as 35 per cent, who still believe 40 years of propaganda from Murdoch and Harmsworth, about being governed by “unelected bureaucrats”, and the Telegraph’s annual fiction about EU’s books never being signed off.

But a third Remain campaign could not possibly be as inept as Cameron, Osborne and Clegg in 2016 in making the positive case that membership increases Britain’s sovereignty (ie power to influence events), as well as its prosperity.

Theresa May is understandably very, very cross. She told everyone that Brexit was folly, yet 37 per cent (of the total electorate) voted for it. She gives the impression that because she has wasted two years of her life on this rubbish deal we must have it whether we like it or not: “You have made your bed, now you must lie on it.”

But she has form on performing somersaults. On or about 2nd January, May will announce her New Year’s resolution at the Downing Street lectern. She will say: “I have always been very clear that the will of the British people must decide. Your choice is between (a) my deal — which involves two more years of negotiation before we find out what it means; and (b) Remain — which involves revoking Article 50 and getting back to sensible politics.”

Contrary to Rory Stewart’s letter last week, the latest evidence shows that a third referendum between Remain and May’s deal would be popular. And, unlike the knife-edge vote in 2016, it could well be as decisive as the 67 per cent Remain vote in 1975 (when — I have to confess — I voted Leave).