Justine Greening, the former secretary of state for education, is the first big name Tory MP to clearly call for a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. She describes the Chequers agreement as a fudge – and, of course, it is – and says that parliament has no way to break the deadlock, so it must go back to the people. Greening suggests a three-way referendum, although she is not the author of this plan as it has been bandied about previously, in which the choices will be between no deal/Mad Max dystopia type thing, Remain, and the whatever remains of the Chequers deal once the EU have had at it. Voters would be asked to rank 1 to 3 their preferences.
This would be very messy on many levels. Would there be three official campaigns, one for each of the three positions? I guess there would have to be. Jesus, if you thought there was a lot of disinformation flying around during the 2016 referendum campaign, just imagine what it would be like after three years of Brexit insanity and a whole extra dimension. As it happens, I doubt very much it is going to happen. The three-way thing, not a second referendum itself, which is oddly starting to look more likely than it has ever done.
The only way I can see a second referendum becoming reality is like this: May puts what is left of the Chequers deal to parliament, which will probably look like Norway Plus with an Olympian level of semantics involved (“We are not remaining in Single Market, rather we are signing up to the new Pan-European Trading Arrangement, and Freedom of Movement will end while Mobility Liberalism will be born”). By the combined forces of the entire opposition benches and 30 odd Tory Brexiteer rebels forming an unholy alliance, May finds her deal voted down. There are epic calls for her to go, and she knows her time is short. We’re headed for no deal, Max Mad dystopia into the bargain. She knows she doesn’t have the numbers on her side to get a second referendum passed, which maybe the core remainers will want but no one else. But she can get a second referendum via the SNP, Lib Dems and a good chunk of the parliamentary Labour Party, if she three line whips her own side and most of them go along with it. Given this scenario, the only way she can get the numbers is if the choice is binary: the Chequers deal or Remain.
This may sound fantastical. But look at where we are now. This may be what it comes down to when all other choices disappear for the prime minister. I still do not think the above scenario will take place I’d like to stress – parliament voting for May’s deal in the end, or some other parliamentary fudge to buy time seem more likely. But I can’t rule it out.