Jeremy Corbyn’s challenger Owen Smith (once the smooth and effective special adviser to Secretary of State Paul Murphy) has offered a second referendum or a general election to ratify any Brexit deal. What, you hadn’t noticed? His offer has so far been buried in the controversy over the leadership challenge. Let’s see how it plays in the leadership campaign over the summer. Only Dominic Grieve the former Attorney General has surfaced for a second referendum among leading Conservatives.
On the idea of a second referendum, a briefing paper for the Labour front bench a copy of which was passed to the Guardian, says that many Labour activists have appealed for a rerun of the referendum, in part because of “the disinformation of the leave campaign and the dysfunction of the government”.
It argues that before exit takes place “there should be the opportunity for some further injection of democracy into this process, so that either the public or their parliamentary representatives are able to vote on the reality of a post-Brexit Britain”.
The papers’ relevance however is as limited as the prospects of another Labour government.
The main Brexit negotiations on withdrawal from the EU must presumably be complete before the next scheduled general election in 2020 at the latest. Apart from the small matter of Theresa May’s cardinal “Brexit means Brexit” declaration, the issue of a second referendum would be much affected by issues outside UK control. .
Next year there are German French and Italian elections, with strong right wing and some left movements breathing down the necks of the leaders in these and other states. At a wide stretch the most favourable scenario is that as a result, the main EU states are forced to recast the EU project so fundamentally that the reasons for UK withdrawal no longer apply. This scenario has been set out by the leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor. This would take a day or three.
The other scenario that the Brexiteer purists, David Davis and Liam Fox who are leading the negotiations and the search for bilateral trade deals fail to deliver, the economy tanks and May does a spectacular U-turn for the election and says to the EU in terms that it was all a terrible mistake. Whether the EU would want to take the UK back by then is moot.
Davis’s breezy assumptions about fixing new trade deals are questioned by a Financial Times briefing (£) about acquiring negotiating status under World Trade Organisation rules
.. the UK would have to detach itself from the EU and regularise its position within the WTO before it could sign its own trade agreements, including with the EU. As Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO’s director-general, said recently, there is no precedent for a WTO member extricating itself from an economic union while inside the organisation. The process would not be easy and would likely take years before the UK’s WTO position was settled, not least because no other member states would have to agree.
The second referendum scenario is just about faintly plausible, but don’t hold your breath.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London