Ignore Johnson's talk of "taking back control"—this deal pushes us closer than ever to remain

The Brexiteers are happy—but the details of Boris Johnson's deal are good news for the People's Vote campaign, too

October 17, 2019
Johnson is selling his deal as a coup for the Brexiteers—but could it actually lead to staying in the EU? Photo: PA
Johnson is selling his deal as a coup for the Brexiteers—but could it actually lead to staying in the EU? Photo: PA

The Brexiteers are happy. A deal has been agreed—and it’s a deal that most of them can probably support. Make no mistake, as Tom Clark explains here, this is a hard Brexit. And unlike Theresa May’s deal, which the most hardline Brexiteers refused to accept, this one comes with the Vote Leave seal of approval. This is a deal negotiated by the leader of Vote Leave, backed by the chief strategist of Vote Leave, and supported by all of Vote Leave’s most prominent backers not to mention the former chair of the European Research Group. A deal endorsed by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Dominic Cummings and Jacob Rees-Mogg cannot be dismissed as Brexit in Name Only.

All of which is great news for the People’s Vote campaign. A second referendum can only take place if there is a credible Leave option. This is that credible option. A referendum with this deal and Remain on the ballot would be the fairest way of resolving the Brexit crisis.

If Leave wins, Remainers will have to accept that their strongest argument—people didn’t know what they were voting for first time around—has been demolished. If Remain wins, Brexiteers cannot argue that a real Brexit wasn’t on the ballot. Nor can they argue that the vote itself was in any way unfair. Quite the contrary: the Leave campaign will have all the benefits of government machinery that the Remain side had in 2016.

Are there enough MPs willing to back a second referendum? When the House of Commons held a series of indicative votes on Brexit in March, 268 MPs backed the idea of a “confirmatory vote” on any deal. Assuming such an amendment makes it on to the order paper on Saturday, it’s possible that the additional 53 votes can be found—particularly if Jeremy Corbyn whips his MPs to back it.

Oddly, accepting a referendum may make sense for Johnson too. If he doesn’t have the votes to pass the deal he would prefer to call an election. Vote for me and we can “get Brexit done,” he would argue. But he needs the support of the Labour party to call an election and—as things stand—there is no guarantee they will provide it. A referendum may be his only way out.

This would be a fair fight. Both options are clear. And after three years of debate—three years when we’ve talked about hardly anything else—few voters will feel uninformed. For those MPs who wish the UK to remain the EU, the only democratic option is another referendum. Their best option of remaining, therefore, is to vote for a referendum—then follow Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg into the lobby and vote for this hard Brexit deal.