The problem with pressure group politics, referenda and suspension of cabinet collective responsibility is that two can play at that game.
The British people have voted Leave and already its implications (real ones this time, not “Project Fear” or whatever soundbite was last doing the rounds the last time the bickering was underway) have begun to sunk in, not just to horrified Remainers but to quite a few Leavers, who never really expected their vote to be on the winning side, but wanted to give David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn a bloody nose. There’s a petition collecting signatures to re-run the Referendum, but that’s not going to happen – not as the result of a petition anyway. But there might just be a route back for the UK, a way of carving out a kind of “cooling off” period that applies to big financial decisions and subsequent reconsideration. Fire must, after all, be fought with Fire.
A new political party should be formed which defines itself as a kind of reverse Ukip (say “Ukeu”), a single issue party with the sole objective of putting MPs in Parliament who will move a Referendum motion immediately after the next General Election, therefore long before the mechanism to divorce the UK from the EU has run its course. The Labour Party, the SNP and other parties committed to EU membership should allow their members to join and campaign for the Ukeu alongside their usual party work and commit to voting for the motion. Ukeu would, in return, only stand against candidates who refuse to back their Referendum Now position.
The beauty of this proposal is that it would bring lots of political outsiders into the electoral arena (they would commit to resign any seats they won immediately after the Referendum is secured). Eddie Izzard might be the figurehead / leader but many more well known, non-politicians may wish to take up the chance to stand as prospective Ukeu MPs. The party would be a magnet for the protest vote against the political machines, something that surely motivated plenty of Leavers on June 23. Ukeu need not win any seats – how many has Ukip won – its mere presence in marginal Tory seats being enough to jeopardise chances of a Tory majority and, in consequence, Boris’s grip on Number 10. And, having fought so hard and sacrificed so much to get there, he’s not going to let go easily is he? An EU associate membership, a five year suspension in the leaving process, a new treaty might all look attractive to Remain Tories if the alternative is a Corbyn – Sturgeon coalition. Compromise, presented sensitively, might stick with all but the Farageist Right.
This is why referenda are such dangerous and unpredictable political beasts to unleash – it’s a reason why they are so rare, why so many governments of such differing political hues did not reach for the option. If the plebiscite worked to get us out, can we not use it to get us back? There’s millions of Scots thinking the same thing now about their referendum for independence and it’ll take a lot of denying if the UK moves quickly to Brexit. A broken UK (with rumblings in Ireland) is a prospect that many natural Tories will do all they can to avoid.
In the febrile political climate in which we find ourselves some 48 hours into thinking the unthinkable, it might just take a leap of Machiavellian boldness to show the way forward. If there’s a Ukeu for me to join on the terms above, I would and I suspect I would not be alone.