Monday, February 11, 2019

The Prisoners Dilemma facing the sane members of Parliament over Brexit

It is clear that Theresa May can’t get her deal through parliament. It’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn can’t get his General Election nor can he get his Customs Union Brexit. That should leave a Peoples Vote with a Remain option as the only alternative.
Yet both the deals of Corbyn and May stagger on in a zombie like existence allowing both Labour and Tory MPs to pretend they are avoiding the catastrophe of nodeal. Surely the Tory MPs especially have to be blind not to see that, after May backed the Brady amendment, May has thrown her lot in with the nodeal Brexiteers.
Sane Tory MPs do have a real problem. The Tory party membership now has a nodeal majority and the successor to Theresa May will almost certainly come from the ERG wing of the party. Any Tory MPs can forget about holding a ministerial post and will likely face deselection. We can tell them that they should country before career but their calculation will be quite different if their stand could actually bring about a peoples vote or merely be a symbolic vote that will only serve to open them up to revenge from the Brexiteer Tory membership. For them to do the right thing they need to be sure that enough other MPs who might be contemplating the same step are willing to break cover. So far only eight have had the nerve to do so.
For Labour the calculations are quite different. The membership is overwhelmingly remain and Labour is far better placed to attract remain voters. Given that there has been a significant swing to remain among the electorate, only those in especially strongly leave voting areas have anything to fear. Not surprisingly many more Labour MPs have come out in favor of a Peoples Vote. However, really a Peoples vote is going to need an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs and its hard to see that happening unless Corbyn swings behind a Peoples Vote. For Corbyn the problem is slightly different from that of moderate Tory MPs. It’s difficult to be sure but his inclinations are most likely for leave and possibly for a nodeal Brexit but given the membership of his party it is imperative for him to avoid having his fingerprints on the outcome. If all Labour Party MPs voted for a Peoples vote then with the current Tory supporters it would scrape hope - barely. So it is possible to argue that if no deal happens it will because Labour let it happen. However there will inevitably be some Labour MPs who will vote against a Peoples Vote even if Corbyn backs it so that seems to let Corbyn off the hook.

There are about twenty perhaps thirty Tory MPs who plausibly could come out in favor of a Peoples Vote. If just fifteen of them joined those who already publicly back a Peoples Vote, Corbyn would be exposed as enabling Brexit if he didn’t then come off the fence. But will they have the nerve to take the risk when Corbyn may stay firmly on the fence no matter what? The situation lacks the symmetry of the Prisoners Dilemma but it has the same catch-22 feel. The sane Tory MPs risk burning their boats for nothing unless enough of their fellows plus Corbyn do so. And unless those MPs take the risk, Corbyn can escape the blame for all that ensues.
But Corbyn really doesn’t risk a great deal in backing a Peoples Vote so by not acting first he shares the greater guilt.
What we can do to change things is to keep on doing what we are doing, campaigning for a Peoples Vote and the advantages of staying in the European Union. The clearer it becomes that Britain has changed its mind, the easier it becomes for the Tory MPs to back a Peoples Vote and the greater the pressure on Corbyn to get off the fence. And while time is running out that also helps us in that the closer we get to March the 29th the greater the fear of the catastrophe that will be nodeal will concentrate the minds of the sane Tories.