Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on London this Saturday to march in favour of a second referendum on Brexit.
They’ll start at Hyde Park and make their way to the Houses of Parliament. The event culminates in a rally and speeches at Parliament Square, opposite the House of Commons.
It’s been organised by the People’s Vote campaign, which held a similar event in June attended by 100,000 people.
On that occasion, organisers were pleasantly surprised by the number that turned up.
This time, they’re predicting the turnout will be even higher.
The People’s Vote campaign is a masterclass in branding. What campaigners are really calling for is a second referendum, designed to overturn the 2016 poll when the nation narrowly voted to leave the EU.
But asking for a second referendum makes you sound like a sore loser.
So campaigners say that they’re calling for “People’s Vote” on the final EU deal, something that hasn’t happened yet. After all, nobody in 2016 knew what that final deal would look like.
Nonetheless, one option on the ballot paper would be to cancel Brexit entirely, reversing the 2016 result.
They’ve been so successful that even Prime Minister Theresa May has used the phrase “People’s Vote” in the House of Commons.
Is there widespread demand for a second referendum?
Campaigners point to polling evidence that suggests there are 112 constituencies where a majority voted to leave in 2016, but would now vote to remain in the EU.
It’s based on analysis commissioned by anti-Brexit group Best For Britain, one of the organisers of the “People’s Vote” campaign, and anti-fascist campaigners Hope Not Hate.
Seats that have switched from leave to remain apparently include Birmingham Yardley; Coventry North East; Birmingham Hodge Hill; Birmingham Perry Barr, and Worcester.
That’s not to say that polling companies have conducted detailed surveys in all those seats. Rather, the findings are based on two YouGov surveys involving just 15,000 people nationwide, and some clever maths.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, however, says that there has been a shift in mood.
Sir Vince, who backs the People’s Vote campaign, told BirminghamLive: “In the West Midlands, the impact on the car industry is potentially very serious
“The manufacturers are careful with what they say, but Jaguar Land Rover has been fairly clear that one of the factors affecting their recent downturn and shutdown is Brexit
“And I think that has been quite a considerable influence in West Midlands thinking.”
He even predicts that Theresa May could come round to the idea of a People’s Vote – even though she’s ruled the idea out.
Sir Vince said: “We do know that there are people in her entourage who are saying ‘for God’s sake, this is your best chance of getting this thing through’.”
At the moment, it appears Mrs May will struggle to win approval in the House of Commons for any deal with the EU. Both the Labour front bench and Conservative supporters of a “hard” Brexit appear determined to vote against anything she agrees with Brussels.
Sir Vince said: “If she wants to actually get this deal landed, going to the country and offering what she would present as a middle way alternative may have a certain appeal.”
Another way of achieving a second referendum might be for opposition parties including Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP to unite with anti-Brexit Tory rebels in a Commons vote. This could, perhaps, force the Government to hold a second referendum whether Mrs May likes the idea or not.
But there are two problems here. The first is that nobody is quite certain whether the motion that eventually goes to the Commons – the so-called “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal – will be amendable.
In other words, will MPs simply have a choice between backing the Government’s deal or rejecting it?
Or will it be possible for a group of MPs to propose an amendment calling for a second referendum, giving the Commons a chance to vote on that?
Secondly, it’s unclear whether Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would order his MPs to back a People’s Vote if the opportunity presents itself.
Labour’s conference passed a motion in September stating that the party will push for a general election if the Government fails to agree a Brexit deal acceptable to Labour. The motion continued: “If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
That doesn’t appear to mean that the party will necessarily back a second referendum, merely that the option would be “on the table”.
Certainly, it appears that Mr Corbyn will be absent from Saturday’s rally. Speakers include Sir Vince, London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, Conservative backbencher Anna Soubry, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour backbencher Chukka Umunna.
Some well-known names are backing the protest. In a neat publicity stunt, celebrities are “sponsoring” coaches from across the country to ferry people to London.
They include Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart, chef Delia Smith, comedian Steve Coogan, comedian Eddie Izzard and Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs.
It perhaps invites the charge that the People’s Vote campaign is backed by luvvies. But it also suggests it has broader appeal than most political campaigns.
Even if the march attracts big crowds, it remains to be seen whether it will have any effect. In practice, a second referendum will be very hard to achieve unless either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn decide to back the idea, and there’s no sign so far of that happening.