Putrid Porridge

Tony Blair (Observer 3 March 2019) said “President Macron is right. Any extension of the article 50 process should be for a reason. It should be to eliminate the blind Brexit Theresa May proposes. But first her deal must be defeated”. Blair has put his finger on the key issue – defeating May’s deal. He says “if I were an MP I wouldn’t want to own this putrid porridge of poor political leadership”.

Today May’s deal went down. It has now been defeated in parliament twice. Has it finally been killed off or will it comeback for a third time? While May survives this is surely possible and the Tories are unlikely to get rid of her unless really forced to because they fear a general election.

We are in a peculiar constitutional situation between Crown, parliament and people. The ‘sovereign people’ voted to leave even though they have no place in the constitution. The Crown, through the PM, promised to carry out the will of the people. Despite repeated evasions and defeats in parliament, the PM has continued ‘representing’ the people against parliament.

In the UK constitution the people are not sovereign and have no authority to halt the parliamentary farce by taking control of the decision. Of course, there is no need for a ratification referendum if the May deal is finally finished. But is it? It may now hide in the shadows awaiting a moment to come out again. The people seem powerless to prevent this nonsense carrying on unless they can force a vote on her deal.

The Observer editorial (10 March 20019) says “The principled case for a referendum on May’s deal remains as strong as ever. It is critical that the negotiated agreement is put before voters for ratification or rejection. This is not re-running the 2016 referendum, but about making sense of its result: the government has not been able to secure what voters were promised, and it must give the public the chance to accept or reject the deal”.

Unfortunately liberals, like Blair, are playing a different game. Last week he said if all else fails MP’s should “accept her deal” but “with a Kyle-Wilson amendment for a confirmatory referendum”. This is smoke and mirrors. In the name of ‘confirmation’ Blair and his allies want to us to vote against putrid porridge and for remaining in the EU.

Keir Starmer takes the same line. He calls for a public vote between “May’s deal and Remain”. (New European 6 March 2019) He is backed up by John McDonnell MP and no doubt deputy Labour leader Tom Watson under the banner of a second referendum. Michael White is cautious about this. He says “I am not sure remain will pull it off”. (New European 6 March 2019).

There are two obvious objections to voting for “May’s deal or Remain”. It will be seen as illegitimate by many who voted to leave. There would be no question in this kind of ballot for millions of leave voters who want No-deal. It will be seen as the liberal elite fixing the result.

Polling evidence suggests that public opinion has not changed much among those who voted. It may even have hardened people’s views. But there is a shift towards remain because new young voters have joined the electoral register. Re-fighting the 2016 referendum with a marginal shift among those who voted first time will deepen the divisions and settle nothing.

Hence White says “I remain nervous about the prospect for a second referendum. It is hard for reason to defeat zeal, especially when coupled with anger and mendacity on a scale likely to be far nastier that the last time because leave voters will insist that the 2016 verdict must stand”. (New European 6 March 2019)

Corbyn seems to have been dragged into a ‘confirm or remain’ second referendum because he, his advisors and his supporters don’t seem to have grasped the basic democratic case for a ratification referendum. If May or her deal survives, it is Labour’s only route to an early general election with the prospects of a Labour victory. Otherwise there is a danger the Corbyn will drown in a bowl of putrid porridge, with a Tory dollop of alleged anti-Semitism and a dash of Hezbollah sauce. Let us see what happens when the dust settles.

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