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Three votes and no progress
18 Mar, 2019

Chair's message to members - 18 March 2019


Dear Member or Supporter

We have the chance later this week to make real progress if we can persuade MPs to back a referendum as a condition to getting the Government's deal through. Please make sure that your MP knows where you stand.
No-Deal has not gone away
Parliament has again passed a non-binding resolution against No-deal.  But it is still the default. 
No-deal is the preferred option of Leave voters. So 25-30% of the population want it, 8 million voters. So, as Labour Leave MPs Jon Cruddas, Nick Lowles and Lisa Nandy argue (in some cases inching towards supporting a referendum): it is hard to see as politically valid a referendum where the preferred option of one side is not on the ballot paper. It would be like making the choice "Deal or Norway?" and telling Remainers that was close enough to what they wanted.
If we wish No-deal off the agenda, we have to persuade voters no longer to want it. Perhaps our campaigning against the deal has increased support for this awful option. We should stop emphasising immediate harms - easily dismissed as Project Fear Mark IV - and focus on the harms to future relationships with both the EU and - having shown ourselves to be an unreliable partner - other countries.
Theresa May's deal is still there - and so it should be
To the great delight of much of the Remain movement the deal has again been massively voted down again. But why are we so pleased?
Of course the deal is lousy. It's a Brexit. But is there some good Brexit that we are hoping for? Or do we think that the ballot paper should ask Remain or Remain?
The task from 2016 was for the Government to work out a plan. They have done so: a Brexit that delivers immigration control and some elements of formal sovereignty at the lowest cost to the economy and to effective sovereignty and with the least risk to peace in Northern Ireland. 
We need the Brexit on the ballot paper to be an actually available Brexit. There is no surer guarantee than that the EU has signed it off. No self-regenerating cake on this menu.
Jeremy Corbyn likes Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn does not like Theresa May's deal
The key to not being too disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn is to read what he actually says, not just the spun headlines. On 27 February, his commitment was clear:

“We will back a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous no deal outcome.

“We will also continue to push for the other available options to prevent those outcomes, including a close economic relationship based on our credible alternative plan or a general election.”

He backs a public vote only to prevent the current Government deal (or a disastrous no deal). He is not going to back a public vote for anything else: certainly not his own Brexit (even though it is essentially the same as the Government's), nor a compromise Brexit.
So we need Theresa May's deal to be the Brexit in order for Jeremy Corbyn to whip Labour for a public vote.
Everyone wants to be Last Man Standing

That is the People's Vote campaign's aim.  But it is everyone else's too. Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn keep bringing their deal back after successive defeats claiming that theirs is the only way forward. Supporters of Norway/ Norway Plus claim theirs would be the compromise to which all would rally - but both Customs Union and Single Market membership have been rejected in the past. The ERG point out that theirs is the default even though it has been rejected twice. Last week Parliament yet again rejected a referendum this time because Labour abstained at the urging of the People's Vote campaign. So all ways forward have been rejected. None is standing.

A passive strategy of waiting until everything else has been rejected assumes that it will be our option that MPs pick up off the floor. But they might pick up any. We need to give a positive reason for choosing us.

No-one wants a referendum per se. It's just a process. We want the result that only a referendum can bring. Focussing on the People's Vote is as though the Spanish tourist board ran advertisements that said only "spend hours in the departure lounge at Gatwick!". Doesn't "A sunshine and culture holiday in Spain" sound more appealing?

We have to make the case by a positive message. So let's remind MPs, especially those who voted Remain and now do not back a referendum, why Remain is the right answer: sovereignty, freedom, national identity and peace.

We need to obtain the referendum now
In law it's not the end of the world if we don't. If the deal passes without a referendum it still needs legislation before it can be ratified and that provides an opportunity for amendments. If the deal and referendum are both rejected there will be more chances to call for a referendum.
But in order to ensure that the European Council gives us the extension we need we should call now for the referendum. It is said that Labour is likely to whip - even if not very hard - for the Kyle/ Wilson amendment which is likely to say that the Government's deal should in some sense pass subject to there being a referendum with the option to Remain. Good. We need the People's Vote campaign to stop waiting for some ideal time and to encourage MPs now to back a referendum. Probably the numbers are not yet there. If we lose we can try again - like everyone else with their option. If we win, it's game on.

What can we do to help

We need to give MPs the reasons to back Kyle Wilson:

  • one is good government
  • another is to make the case for Remain. Most MPs believe it - they need to be reminded of it so that they are willing to be brave enough to return the question to the electorate.
  • The electorate would like Brexit to just go away. If we have the deal we'll have years of arguing about what Brexit means. Remain is the only way to make the question go away
  • We can appeal to Conservative loyalists and opponents of the ERG: a referendum condition would get the deal through by harnessing Labour and other opposition votes.
  • more controversially, we could appeal to the ERG and Labour Leavers and call for no-deal to be on the ballot paper. Not only would it bring their votes in Parliament, but it would prevent Leave voters saying that the referendum does not count as their option was not on the ballot.
  • a referendum would keep parties together. Tom Watson's Future Britain Group has held dozens of MPs in the Labour party. Will that work much longer without a referendum? The same is true for the Conservatives. It worked in 1975. It failed in 2016 because the result opened up the question. 2019 would close it down, whatever the result.

Of course there is a problem. Whatever we say to turn people on will turn some off. Well, let's be true to ourselves then and speak for what we believe in. Remain, and a fair referendum to obtain that.

Write and March
So, write to your MP (again, sorry). Tell them how to vote: for a referendum. Notes for a model letter here. Information on where your MP stands here.
Join with other Remain campaigners and SODEM on Parliament Square especially on the day of the - yet another! - meaningful vote, probably Tuesday 19th (Parliamentary order of business here). Your local group might be organising a party to go up - ask them.
March on the 23rd (sign up here) - whatever happens we will still need to show that we stand by our cause. 




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