Whisper it soft, but I have some, small sympathy for Teresa May.

The problem with trying to deliver a referendum result with absolutely no guidance to it means that whatever deal she created would be an absolute dog’s dinner, unpalatable to most. With most things, it comes down to a question of interpretation.

May’s position is that we’ve had a referendum, and now have to deliver on that result. To that end, second referendum or remain positions are incompatible with the outcome of the first referendum, which was to leave. So the only two options presented to Parliament can only be deal, or no deal. Norway-Plus is out as it doesn’t exclude Freedom of Movement.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Let’s say, then, that a referendum on the deal (or no deal) gets the go-ahead. Assuming we had to include some option that allowed the possibility of remain, you’d need three options:

  1. Deal
  2. No deal
  3. Something else

“Something else” can’t be “remain”, as I said before. The best it can be is a “stop the clock while we come up with something” option.

Three-option (or more) referendums are never ideal, as they rarely produce a clear outcome. In the example above, the third option would have to gain more than 50% of the vote, otherwise it could be inferred that more people voted for a ‘leave’ option, even if neither produced a clear winner (say by a 10% margin over the other).

Deja vu

The trouble is, “something” could well be a re-run of the first referendum.

You could run it as a three-option referendum:

  1. Deal
  2. No deal
  3. Remain

But then you’d get complaints that the two ‘leave’ options are split.

And if you ran it with a transferrable vote system, with first and second choices, then you increase the likelihood of the least polarising option – deal – getting winning.

So the safest way is to run it as “leave” or “remain”. Again.

It’s a cracker, isn’t it?