Lessons from 1975

Posted on 18-06-19 by Michael Romberg Number of votes: 0 | Number of comments: 3

The country is divided and Parliament is deadlocked.

People hold their views firmly. Three quarters of the population are Brexit "purists" seeking No-Deal or Remain. Only a fifth wish for some sort of compromise.

It is hard to see what a compromise would look like. A customs union would not be a compromise - no Remainer ever said that was all that they cared about. Possibly a single market relationship like Norway which preserved freedom of movement would work since it would keep the main personal advantage of EU membership while losing the political union.  But it is too late for that, if there ever was a moment for it.

So the way forward should be a referendum. It should have at least three options: No-Deal, Deal, Remain. Many MPs see No-Deal as irresponsible. But no referendum could have legitimacy without Leavers' preferred option on the ballot paper. It is an argument we have to win, not preclude.

A multiple choice referendum should be structured using the technique "Backward Induction". Start at the end: Brexit is discretionary. Out of the universe of potential Brexits we can leave only on one. Therefore the final question is: Leave the EU on this one Brexit plan or Remain?

In order to ask that question we need to have decided what the best Brexit plan is. So there should be a prior voting round some weeks before which considered different Brexit plans (but not Remain). If more than two it could use a transferable vote system. The problems with that are much reduced if all options tend in the same direction. It would therefore allow a permanent customs union to be one of the options.

You can read more about this approach in these two blogs:



Labour should learn the lessons from 1975. Then the splits in the party were handled by the party being neutral but individuals were allowed to choose for which side to campaign. 

So too in the next referendum. The party could be neutral but individuals - including the Party Leader in his capacity as an individual MP - could campaign for whichever option they chose.

That should avoid too much rupture between Leave- and Remain-supporters.

It is important to move quickly to this position. It is not clear whether the EU would grant a further extension beyond October if the UK did not have a clear plan for resolving the question. It is suggested that the EU would be willing to agree an extension for a "democratic event".

A general election would not help. The two main parties are divided. If Labour won and tried to implement Brexit it would face the same stresses as the Conservatives and would tear itself apart just as they have done. Anyway, general elections do not answer single-policy questions. That is what referenda are for.

So to obtain an extension there has to be a plan for a referendum. That means that Labour needs to come out now unequivocally for a referendum on any Brexit deal so that a plan can be voted on in Parliament and presented to the EU as part of the argument for an extension.

Referring to: International

The International Policy Commission develops Labour’s international policy. It is responsible for foreign policy, international development, defence and Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

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