The new second referendum that Boris can’t just ‘get done’ – David Behrens

For those of us who hoped that Britain might yet find a way forward within the EU, this election was never going to have a happy ending. But the outcome could have been so much worse.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by staff as he arrives back at 10 Downing Street

We do at least know now what the result of a second referendum would have been. Attitudes have hardened since 2016. Those who thought the country had made a mistake have learned to live with it.

It didn’t help that there was no credible party to which Remainers could turn. Many, myself included, might have swung to Labour, had it offered a palatable alternative. But Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum agenda posed a threat both to national security and personal prosperity.

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Corbyn had been handed a mandate in 2017 by young and idealistic voters to stimulate change. That he failed to do so in opposition rather than in Government is some comfort; it confined the damage to his own party.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivers a speech to the media at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, after the SNP won 47 seats

He complained in defeat that Brexit had dominated everything. He was the only one to have remained ambiguous about it.

But Labour’s collapse does mean that the uncertainty is over. We have more clarity that we could reasonably have expected. The second referendum – which would not have been a threat, as Boris Johnson chose to call it, but a safety valve – will not happen.

But another one might.

The success of the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, and especially Scotland, has set them on different paths, and Nicola Sturgeon has already asserted a moral mandate for a new vote on Scottish independence. With the SNP now holding all but 11 of Scotland’s 59 seats in Westminster, this is an issue that will dominate the new political landscape.

Ms Sturgeon’s argument is weakened by her own rhetoric in 2015. Choosing the SNP, she said, was neither a vote for independence nor even for another referendum; simply to make Scotland’s voice heard.

However, when she spoke, her party had only six seats against Labour’s 41. The landslide that year changed her tune, and her success in sustaining it in two elections since has strengthened her hand.

She did not pretend yesterday that every SNP voter would necessarily also choose independence, but there was no denying that their numbers weakened the case for dragging the nation into a Brexit movement it did not support.

“I have just won an election on the strength of the argument that it’s Scotland’s right to choose,” she said. “It’s up to the Tories to decide what their plan B is when my plan A has just been given a ringing endorsement.”

However plan B plays out, it will not be in the form of a referendum the Prime Minister knows he might lose. The departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom on his watch would be more divisive than Brexit ever was.

Besides, the Scottish results belie all the tactical voting that went on. The SNP gained 13 seats but also lost some it expected to win – not least the former enclave of Sir Menzies Campbell in North East Fife, where Conservatives appeared to have swung behind the Lib Dems in an anti-independence protest.

Mr Johnson has already acknowledged, in a gracious victory night speech, that his mandate was not permanent. “You may only have lent us your vote,” he said. “Your hand may have quivered over the ballot paper as before you put your cross in the Conservative box.”

If the lenders are not to foreclose, the nationalists will have to be mollified.

There are constitutional issues in Ulster, too, where the results were a damning indictment of the failure to resurrect powersharing at Stormont.

And here in Yorkshire, where unprecedented swings in Wakefield and the Rother and Don Valleys robbed Labour of seats they had held since the years between the world wars, it will take demonstrable investment in industry, health and transport to prevent a reverse movement next time.

Many in the Labour party had expected results like yesterdays in 2017; weeks of door-knocking had made them doubt their leader’s ability to lead. But Mr Corbyn was allowed the benefit of the doubt.

That is the privilege accorded Mr Johnson now. He will be allowed no political honeymoon. The fiasco of Brexit is drawing to a close but the constitutional crisis may only just be beginning.