Exiting the European Union: Meaningful Vote

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 3:17 pm, 11th December 2018

Yesterday was undoubtedly a day of humiliation for the Government, but from today, we have a different task, which is to avoid humiliation for the nation. We will have to see what the Prime Minister brings back from her talks, but I doubt whether any piece of paper, any codicil or any exchange of letters will save the current withdrawal agreement and political declaration from defeat here. In those circumstances—Nicky Morgan drew attention to this—there are broadly two choices. The first is that the Government abandon their red lines and apply to join the European economic area and a customs union. That would solve the problem with Northern Ireland, ensure the continuation of friction-free trade, give us many things that are mere aspirations in the political declaration and provide reassurance to businesses, but there would be consequences, including in relation to free movement.

The second option is to put the question back to the people. That could include the Prime Minister putting her withdrawal agreement to the people in a vote. We would need legislation for that and therefore Parliament would have to decide what the questions are. Let us be frank: that is not without difficulty or risk. What would the question or questions be? If there were more than two, what voting method would be used? How could another referendum command legitimacy? It seems clear that we would get to that point only if all other options had been tried and exhausted.