Brexit could be decided in the forthcoming General Election. If Johnson wins an overall majority (or a majority with the DUP) then Brexit will happen: maybe something like May’s deal but more probably No Deal. As I suggested in my last post, holding a People’s Vote before the General Election has no impact on that reality. If in contrast Labour wins (most probably with a Labour/SNP understanding) then Brexit dies at least until the following election. That is because Corbyn is sure to lose a Public Vote on his own deal (if it gets that far), because the Tories will not take part and Remainers will back Remain.
There is a messy third outcome, where neither the Tories or Labour have a workable majority. Even if that parliament contains a majority of MPs who support a referendum, holding one which the Tories would boycott may simply provide ammunition for the Tories in a further General Election that might soon follow. In the absence of a political programme that distracts people from Brexit, Brexit will stay as a central issue, referendum or no refrendum.
Here we get to a difficult truth that many Liberal Democrats deny. A Public Vote will only settle the Brexit issue if the Tories take part, which they are very unlikely to do, or if it is followed by a period of years when Leavers get bored with the issue. Only a Labour government, minority or majority, can do that. An unstable minority government cannot do that when Brexit is the Tories strong card.
Here we get to an irony that is again lost on too many LibDem supporters. The LibDems are where they are in the polls in part because Corbyn’s Brexit obstinacy gifted them a whole bunch of Remain votes. Yet if those voters who voted LibDem in the European elections, and now say they support the LibDems, actually vote LibDem in the General Election in Lab/Con marginals, then this hands the election to the Tories. The LibDems may gain a few more seats, but they will have helped Johnson get Brexit over the line.
Everyone knows this is Cummings’ strategy. Polling suggests that even though many 2017 Labour voters in Lab/Con marginals may be reluctant to support the Conservatives, they could be persuaded to stay at home or vote LibDem. As James Crouch of Opinium wrote:
“I have outlined how the Liberal Democrats face an incredible struggle to have the impact in seats that they think a large shift in votes their way should suggest. But is a large shift of votes their way likely? Yes, at the moment I’d say so, but in particular places yielding few seats. More important questions are from where do these votes come? And who will benefit from this shift? Unfortunately, the one party unlikely to benefit is the Lib Dems themselves. Expect the impact to be felt far more noticeably in Conservative-Labour marginal seats, where a very large number of constituencies with tiny majorities could switch hands purely because one party’s voter base crumbled quicker than the other.”