The People’s vote is not in the bag, alas

A People’s Vote is looking increasingly likely, but it’s outcome is not in the bag, especially if there are three options. 

There’s a warning in a comment from Gina Miller: “We discovered that a vast swathe of people who would vote for no deal across the country would do so because their perception is that no deal means remaining”]

As a strong supporter of full EU membership, the danger is that I seize on every opinion poll that suggests Remain would win in a People’s Vote. But the polls are still uncomfortably close: Remain is ahead almost everywhere, but not by nearly enough. The tracking at

This  shows Remain on 36%, Leave on 33% and “don’t know” at 31%. That’s too close. Over at BrexitCentral number are being quoted that show Leave in a strong position. My twitter feed showed a BMG poll putting Remain at 52% and Leave at 40%, with the gap widening, but BMG also have a more fine-grained poll  

BMG / Independent Poll: Latest EU voting intention figures show Remain ahead of Leave

showing 51% against a second referendum, and “Canada Plus” as the preferred option for all age groups except those under 34. 

Back in the summer, Andrew Duff was counselling caution on a referendum, with a view to a new political party putting the case for re-joining the EU in a future General Election.  He has a point: the huge danger is that we lose a referendum and people discover what has been lost only after actually leaving.

Things have moved on a lot since then, but on 12 December Carole Cadwalladr drew attention to a piece in Private Eye saying that two of Cambridge Analytica’s key data scientists, Tadas Jucikas and Brent Clickard, are now in business with UKIP’s ex-MP Douglas Carswell and Vote Leave’s former Chief Tech Officer Thomas Borwick. It’s hard not to read that also as preparation for a referendum.

It’s not that the 2016 Leave campaign simply lied. There’s was a cynical campaign, fuelling and exploiting people’s anxieties. The anxieties have not gone away. There’s no reason to think that a new Leave campaign would behave any differently, and this time they will be able to draw on the frustration of those who think that their bright Brexit is being “stolen”.

The problem is highlighted by a tweet from Matthew Goodwin on 15 December, referencing a page that has since been deleted on the Opinium web site saying  “When we ran an open text question asking people to name a public figure whose views on Brexit they respect, the most popular individuals named (apart from variations of “nobody”) were all Leavers: Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Few mentioned any prominent Remain backing politicians…” 

So where do we go?

In 2016 the Remain campaign was accused of lacking emotion. We were hamstrung by responding reasonably to David Cameron’s (needless) “renegotiation”. Right now, we are hamstrung by responding reasonably to Theresa May’s “deal” and parliamentary chaos.

In 2015 I stood against the Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen. In the closing speeches at the end of one hustings, our UKIP opponent did what came naturally. Bridgen did the same, with more coherence, beginning  “As a convinced Eurosceptic”. I dumped what I was going to say, began “As a convinced European”. There was fire in my belly. On the morning after the referendum I was at a conference in Spain. My sunglasses hid my tears. It’s time for the emotion to be front and central.

But the emotion is more complex than (mythical) “foreigners taking our jobs”. It’s about peace — so the Cenotaph means “never again” not “we won last time”. It’s about shared values. It’s about lives massively enriched by friendships across Europe. It’s about freedom to travel. It’s also about knowing that Europe has its shameful parts — none of the European stories of colonising and enslaving other parts of the world can stand much scrutiny — but those are stories we share. It’s about a future that is not simple, but our shared European heritage offers a support that’s not there in fantasies of Empire.

And leadership… We need the visible faces of support for remaining in the EU. Gina Miller, Layla Moran, Caroline Lucas, Ken Clarke — these are all people to have in the media  spotlight.

We can’t afford to be seduced by a selective reading of the polls, but have every reason to push for a European future.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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  • Bill le Breton 18th Dec '18 - 11:34am

    Vince, along with the Parliamentary leaders of the SNP, The Greens and Plaid, has just tabled an amendment to Corbyn’s motion: in line 1 leaving out from “the” to end and inserting “Her Majesty’s Government”.

    But of course this does not change it into a ‘no confidence’ under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

    The Tories will ignore the Corbyn motion and our own amendment to it.

    They could not have ignored using Section 4 of the FTPAct by tabling the form of motion for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) viz:

    “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”

    As I wrote here three weeks ago this would truly put Labour on the spot …

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '18 - 12:19pm

    Will Corbyn whip Labour MPs to ignore or oppose the amendment?

  • Roger Billins 18th Dec '18 - 1:08pm

    I fear now that the Government is driving the bus straight over the no deal cliff and, principally because of the awfulness of Her Majesty’s official opposition, there is no way that the people or parliament can stop it. I now seriously worry about this country and it’s people.

  • Total agreement with this post. The fantasy of a bright Brexit future which would be stolen from us by averting Brexit, is extremely difficult to nail. If someone had tried to stop the first world war by dire warnings in 1914, the difficulty would have been similar. Depriving the country of the chance to crush the Hun, etc.

    There is a strong momentum now towards the “cleansing” or cathartic effect of a hard Brexit. Many voted leave to “shake things up a bit” , and the no-deal fanatics still believe that a bit of destruction – or even a lot of destruction – is a good thing. Britain will drink the Kool-Aid.

    Life on earth is always a struggle between the forces of construction and renewal, and destruction and decay. One follows the other like war follow peace all through history, and Brexit is the current force of destruction in politics. It has well been described as a death cult.

    In the midst of life is death, and in the midst of Britain is Brexit.

  • The risk of the second referendum is that the conclusion of dirty tricks could also apply, to varying degrees, in the AV referendum, Scottish Independence referendum and now Brexit referendum. What now? It seems that this method of democracy is far too open to dirty tricks and “fake news” so the rules for campaigning and reporting on campaigns must be tightened up as a first step. A second referendum may lead to a remain campaign (huzzah) but it’s not a better result if based on the equivalent to Boris’s bus message.

  • paul barker 18th Dec '18 - 2:28pm

    Right now the Government strategy is to cause panic in Business/The Markets so as to frighten MPs into line. Hence the bigging-up of No-Deal preparations.
    Its a lot easier to start a panic than to stop it. Even if The Commons can take control of the process it may by then be too late for a Referendum option to calm things down, there may be no choice but to withdraw Article 50.
    The New Year will be a very bumpy ride.

  • I see a lot of debate about the economic consequences of leaving the EU. I do not see anyone looking trying to sell the reality of the EU in terms of it being a democratic institution in which countries are still sovereign nations. I hear nonsense about bureaucrats in Brussels telling us what to do. The reply seems to be that yes the EU has got many problems but it is better than nothing, and maybe we can change it.
    When are we going to have a campaign in favour of the real EU?

  • The Brexit lies in preparation for another referendum have already started – no deal being acceptable is just one of them.
    I was at a meeting of North Yorkshire for Europe last night. LibDems, Labour and Greens were there but no Tories. The Tory remainers are out there but afraid to admit it. That’s a major problem.
    Email your MP and tell him what you think. I’m starting a photo campaign of taking pictures of ‘partly funded by EU’ signs to post on Instagram and Facebook. We hear a lot about the bad things but not enough about support for things our ‘sovereign’ government won’t find.

  • @Mark Argent @John King
    I agree entirely. Problem is that we have to be realistic.
    Given the human condition, it is unfortunately, quicker and easier to arouse Hate than Love. As such any further argument will have to be fought on the ground of hate. The original campaign pitted hate against fear. With the sound of ‘Project Fear’ inspiring the brave I’m afraid hate won the day. If there is to be a next time I’m afraid we will have to find hate figures on the opposing side and attack them mercilessly, Rees Mogg, Gove, Johnson, May, Elites etc. Trying to convince people to love the EU in and of itself just wont work.
    Its a sad world.

  • Peter Hirst 19th Dec '18 - 1:26pm

    We must campaign for the words, “leave without a deal” to be on the ballot paper if the choice is not between deal and remain. The simplest thing is to have the three choices with voting for one. This would be like FPTP. Or it could be preferential voting though this might be too complicated for a referendum. Getting one option over the 50% line would help legitimacy and is in fact vital. We need wide discussion over the issue and process.

  • Sue Sutherland 19th Dec '18 - 2:05pm

    We used to be proud of our unarmed Bobbies on the beat. Now, because of Brexit, May is planning to put soldiers on the street. Whatever happened to peaceful reasonable Britain? Let’s get it back before it’s too late.

  • Nigel Quinton 19th Dec '18 - 6:27pm

    @Mark – great article, on the button throughout.

    @Sue, I rather fear we have already lost our ‘peaceful reasonable Britain’.

    @Peter Hirst – an AV style vote on the three options you mention would see Mrs May’s deal as the likely second preference of many, and I worry that unless Remain won 50% in the first round it would fail after the rabid Brexiteers second prefs went to May’s deal – they won’t come our way.

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '18 - 10:20am

    @ Nigel Quinton,

    May’s deal is unpopular with both Remain and Leave so I would expect that option to be eliminated first. It would then be a straight choice between Remain and Leave with no deal.

  • Nigel Quinton 20th Dec '18 - 2:12pm

    @Peter Martin – wish I shared that optimism, but I fear that May’s deal will gain a lot more traction as the clock winds down.

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