16 May 2019
Place your bets.
By John Watson
Oh well, you might as well enjoy Brexit if you can. Time for a trip to the bookies clasping the latest polls in your hand; but where should you put your money? Let’s think about it together.
Firstly, where are the polls for the European elections? In uncharted territory, that is where. Way out in front is Farage with 34%, a phalanx of Union Jack wavers at his back. That is more than three times the Conservatives at 11%. Why? Well, the public thinks Mrs May has handled the whole business badly, of course, but there is more than that at work. Many leavers, predominantly Tories, are sending a very deliberate message that they want Brexit and they want it now.
Add Mr Farage’s 34% to 4% for UKIP and you have 38% who find that the two major parties are not Brexity enough for them. You only need 12% out of the 32% voting for Tories and Labour to give you a clear Brexit majority. That would be a vote confirming the referendum result if the European Election results follow the current polls.
So far so good, but it doesn’t deal with the central issue between the parties. Would the majority prefer to remain part of the Customs Union permanently as Labour suggest, or would they prefer on the other hand to go for Mrs May’s deal or something stronger? It could be either, of course, but assuming that all the Faragists and UKIPpers are in the ‘no Customs Union’ camp, that extra 12% looks quite small.
Anyway, if the results are as the polls suggest, it would be a brave political party which risked the wrath of the electorate by forcing us to remain in the Customs Union, and that leaves Labour (who are probably not feeling particularly brave at the moment and have long taken the position that this is the right answer) between a rock and a hard place. Hold their position and risk being seen to thwart public opinion. Slip in behind Mrs May and everyone will ask why they have been holding things up for so long. Their best strategy must be to appear to hold their position and shift any blame for withdrawing from it to the public. No wonder that Sir Keir Starmer is beginning to talk of a referendum as being a red line for the majority of his MPs.
Meanwhile, down in the Downing Street silo things aren’t looking too good either. The strategists may not be too worried about the 11%, although it is an astonishingly bad figure. Unless the electorate are really going to vote for a Farage government next time round many of the Tories votes will return. Still, if it is reflected in the actual vote a marker will have been set and they clearly cannot concede the permanent Customs Union which is Labour’s red line. So much then for any prospect of cross-party agreement which leaves May saying she will accept the view of the House, ie of the MPs who failed to agree last time around.
Too many red lines have been drawn for the House to agree on whether or not to pursue the Customs Union so back to the public it has to go. That means that a further referendum will be announced within the next few weeks and that is where you should put your money.
And in case you like to bet in trebles, here are two further predictions for you:
What will the decision be? Mrs May’s deal, of course. The electorate clearly believes in Brexit and is not going to be sold short on our having our own trade deals.
Who will have the most awkward explaining to do? Labour, as their position collapses under them and they have to justify having taken it, but the Tories could have a bad time too as they explain how they ran the process.
These tips are given without responsibility, of course, but if you should win the treble on the basis of the above, mine is a pint – but not, I think, with Nigel Farage.