- Campaigners for a new Brexit referendum are licking their wounds after Theresa May defeated amendments they supported on Tuesday evening.
- The House of Commons rejected amendments which sought to give the MPs the power to delay Brexit and discuss alternatives to May’s deal including a new referendum.
- Pro-People’s Vote MPs and campaigners described the results as “dire” and “demoralising.”
- However, the official campaign’s long-term strategy of creating a House of Commons majority for a new referendum has not been derailed, sources insist.
LONDON – Campaigners for a new referendum are struggling to find a route to a ‘People’s Vote’ after Theresa May defeated amendments designed to potentially delay Brexit and consider alternatives on Tuesday evening.
One Labour MP who is supporting the People’s Vote campaign described the mood as “demoralised” on Wednesday, while one of their pro-referendum colleagues said they were “drowning their sorrows” after last night’s votes.
A leading figure in the campaign for a new referendum added that the situation was “pretty dire.”
They said that the results cast further doubt on whether a House of Commons majority for a new referendum was ever possible, telling BI: “I struggle to see where new numbers come from to be frank.”
They said that a “saving grace” was that despite the defeat of Yvette Cooper’s amendment, there was still a strong possibility that the UK would apply for an extension to Article 50, creating more time for a potential referendum.
The People’s Vote campaign for a new referendum had urged supporters to lobby MPs to back amendments tabled Labour MP Cooper and Conservative Dominic Grieve, in the belief that they would create the clearest path to holding a new vote.
The amendment tabled by Cooper sought to give the MPs the power to delay Brexit if necessary while Grieve wanted to set aside six days for MPs to discuss Brexit options, including a referendum.
A Labour MP who backs the campaign told Business Insider last week that if the Cooper and Grieve amendments didn’t pass, MPs would have few, if any, future opportunities to legislate for a new Brexit referendum.
“There will be other opportunities along the way but not in the hands of the House of Commons,” they said, adding that future opportunities to legislate for a so-called People’s Vote “would be in the gift of the government.”
However, one figure in the campaign for a People’s Vote in the Labour Party insisted that the official campaign’s long-term strategy for securing a referendum had not been derailed.
One of the campaign’s main tactics is to knock down all other Brexit options, primarily a Norway-style Brexit and Labour’s alternative plan, until the only option left for MPs who want to avert no-deal is a new referendum.
“I don’t think this makes Norway, May’s deal plus customs union or any other option more likely,” they said, reflecting on the votes on Tuesday evening.
“A People’s Vote will have to be the last alternative to no deal standing, but it still could be.”
A backbench Labour MP agreed, telling BI: “With or without the whip, there are many Labour MPs who would rather have another referendum than no-deal. That applies to the shadow frontbench and frontbench too.”
The People’s Vote campaign’s long-standing belief has been that the key to unlocking parliamentary support for a referendum is convincing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to back it and whip his MPs to do the same.
However, MPs who support the campaign believe it may have to adopt a new strategy, amid a growing belief that despite pressure from members and parliamentarians, Corbyn is not going to make the switch.
“The campaign needs to tackle this issue of where Corbyn stands, establish it clearly, and work around it if necessary,” a Labour MP who supports the People’s Vote campaign told BI on Wednesday.
Labour’s official policy is to consider backing a new referendum if a general election isn’t possible and the party is unable to make May’s government adopt its alternative Brexit plan of a permanent customs union.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer earlier this month signalled that Labour was close to backing a new referendum, telling party members that Labour was in “phrase three” of its Brexit policy.
However, Corbyn is currently focused on trying to force the prime minister into pursuing a softer Brexit deal, and is set to hold talks with her in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon.