Ross Clark

Only a ‘people’s vote’ can save the Tories now

Only a 'people’s vote' can save the Tories now
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Brexit is, as we know, the most important issue facing the government and the country. Except it isn’t. For the Conservatives there is an even more pressing matter: how to prevent a socialist government. Yesterday, the pound plunged after ministerial resignations following Theresa May’s deal with EU negotiators. But were investors spooked by the thought of a ‘no deal’ Brexit or by the possibility of a government collapse, general election and Corbyn in Number 10? Who knows? One thing is for certain: the very worst outcome for markets would be a combination of the two, a Red Brexit. At least the EU would temper Corbyn’s ambition to turn Britain into Venezuela, through its rules on state funding of industry and so on. Outside the EU, on the other hand, Corbyn could rapidly turn Britain into a command economy, with the grave consequences that would bring.  Meanwhile, Corbyn would be trying to fund a huge rise in public spending with falling revenues, as higher personal and corporate taxes drove wealthy individuals and businesses abroad. No wonder the pound is falling.

Much though it pains me to side with the ‘People’s Vote’ lobby, I have long come to conclusion that the only way for the government to save itself – and thus save Britain from a Red Brexit – is for Theresa May to announce a second referendum, this one with three options: Theresa May’s deal, ‘no deal’, and ‘no Brexit’. May did, indeed, list these three options when speaking in Downing Street after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. This time around, the result of the election would be binding and every voter would be given a first and second preference vote.     Justine Greening has pitched this idea as her own, but in fact you – and possibly she – read it here first last December.  

At a stroke, the focus would move onto campaigning for the referendum and away from the Tories destroying themselves. How else does the matter get resolved? It is plain that there is no majority in the Commons for May’s deal. Labour has said it will vote against. So, too, will the DUP and a bevy of Conservative MPs. If it is put to a Commons vote Theresa May will face a humiliating defeat which will surely lead to her resignation if, indeed, a Conservative vote of no confidence has not done so already. What would follow? Even less is there a Commons majority for no deal, nor indeed for any kind of deal once the specifics emerge – there is no way to unite Conservative Remainers and Leavers, and opposition parties can be counted on to oppose anything May puts forward. The government cannot progress. If it cannot, then the default position is that we drop out of the EU next March with no deal against the government’s wishes. How could a Conservative government survive in such circumstances? It couldn’t. It would fall, and Jeremy Corbyn would find himself presented with the clean slate of a no-deal Brexit on which to project his socialist vision.

The People’s Vote lobby is a disgrace. The very name is obnoxious. As Rod Liddle asked here earlier, who did they think voted in the last referendum, beasts of the forest? They have treated leavers as if they are morons and expressed contempt for the very democracy they claim to espouse.  

But that doesn’t mean that their objective should be dismissed. On one point they are right: no-one on 23 June 2016 voted for any specific kind of Brexit. The ballot paper did not distinguish between a WTO Brexit and Mrs May’s proposed vassal state. Now we are down to three choices the question needs to be put again. I know which option will come last on my ballot paper: the deal which Parliament is now going to be asked to approve. Of the other two options – staying in or leaving without a deal – I am not so sure. If we are going to leave we should do it properly and become what the EU fears most: a Singapore, moored 20 miles off Calais and ready to gobble up investment from its neighbours. But for that, we need a pretty hard-headed Conservative government in office. If there is a danger we will end up with Corbyn in office then we would be better off staying in, so the EU can keep him in check. I am not sure how the public would vote in a second referendum, but of one thing I am sure: if Theresa May, or her successor, does not grant one, then a Red Brexit is what we will get.