The campaign for a “people’s” vote on the final Brexit deal has gained huge momentum; as London Mayor Sadiq Khan has come out in favour of another referendum. Writing in the Observer Khan said that he had become “increasingly alarmed as the chaotic approach to the negotiations become mired in confusion and deadlock.” The apparent change in Khan’s opinion on this issue follows polling that shows members of the UK’s three major unions overwhelmingly support a second referendum – and the TUC saying that it will back a second referendum unless Theresa May gets a deal which guarantees jobs and workers’ rights. All of this piles the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership to shift its position regarding a second referendum ahead of the Labour party conference later this month. The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, have said that they would back a referendum if their party’s membership were in favour. With Jeremy Corbyn refusing to rule out a second referendum, there’s a real chance that Labour may come out of conference with a decisively different Brexit position.
Despite calls from an increasing number of political figures for a referendum on the final deal, there are still substantial obstacles which mean that the chances of a referendum happening are uncertain. Firstly in terms of practicality, the last EU referendum was held 13 months after the EU Referendum Bill passed through parliament, we are now just 6 months away from when we will leave the EU. The Electoral Commission recommends that legislation is passed 6 months before campaigning gets under way and then ten weeks for the referendum campaigning itself. By this time we will already have been out of the EU 2 months and 2 weeks.
A second major reason which throws the likelihood of a referendum on the final deal into doubt is purely down to numbers. Parliament is sovereign in the UK and only it can call a referendum. In order to force one against Theresa May – who in the Salzburg summit reiterated that she would not support a referendum on the final deal – 20 Conservative MP’s would need to rebel. But that’s assuming all Labour MP’s also vote to amend the withdrawal bill, something which is unlikely.
Even bearing in mind these obstacles, recent British Politics has shown us that nothing is certain, and in the words of Theresa May “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” The rejection of Mays’ Chequers deal in Salzburg has significantly increased the chance of a no deal scenario. If MP’s are faced with the prospect of no deal becoming a reality then who knows how they might vote when push comes to shove.