The fate of Britain’s economy, society and role in the world remains desperately uncertainby Peter Kellner / April 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
The margins were narrow but, as Churchill famously said, one is enough. Parliament remains deadlocked. The position may clarify by Wednesday evening: more debates and votes are certain. In the immediate aftermath of Monday night’s divisions, neither the propositions that will be put to the Commons, nor the decisions that MPs will take on them, can be predicted with any confidence.
If, as some have suggested, MPs are asked to choose between the government’s withdrawal agreement and a customs union deal, the votes in recent days suggest a close result. It could depend on whether the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Independent Group (now Change UK) support a CU next time if pitched head-to-head against the WA. So far they have failed to back a customs union when it is presented as a yes/no choice, so as to achieve top ranking for a referendum—something they have twice achieved, in the latest division with 280 votes for a referendum, compared with 273 for a customs union.
However, it may be that the way forward is determined not just, or even mainly, by that choice, but by a decision about process: will parliament push ahead with some form of Brexit this spring, or will the electorate be asked for its view first, in either a referendum or a general election?
The excited chatter over the weekend suggested an early election. From the viewpoint of the Conservatives, would that make sense? They would almost certainly have to fight it with Theresa May as leader, and almost all of them recall with a shudder what a terrible campaigner she proved to be in 2017. Then there is the little matter of what on earth the party would say in its manifesto about Europe—and how many candidates would ignore the official party position and stake out their own.
Most important of all, an early election would be an enormous risk. A few weeks ago, when eight Labour and three Tory MPs left their parties to create the Independent Group, Labour suffered in the opinion polls and the Conservatives moved into the lead. The latest survey after last week’s dramas, by Deltapoll, showed Labour with a five-point lead. The Tories also now have…