[6th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 12:08 pm on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:08 pm, 10th January 2019

That is a great question from the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, and who has taken a brave and principled position on Brexit as on every issue he has faced as a Member of this House. It is right that we hold up to scrutiny some of the alternatives that are put forward, in order to say that they are not realistic and not deliverable so that we can focus on what is realistic and deliverable. He also makes the important point that Brexit creates opportunities for this House to reshape policy in a number of areas. Many people outside this place, whatever their view of the original referendum result, now want us to focus on dealing with the challenges but also on exploiting those opportunities.

I want to say one thing briefly, however, about an attempt by some Members of this House, in all sincerity, to put forward a case that would mean that instead of focusing on the opportunities and dealing with the challenges we would simply be rerunning the arguments of the past, and that is the case for a so-called people’s vote—a second referendum in other words. There are people I really like and respect who put forward this case so I hesitate to put the contrary case, but I have to, because if we were to embark on a second referendum, we would spend months in this House debating how to construct that second referendum, and there is no consensus about what the question should be.

Every single Member of this House who argues for a second referendum had previously argued to remain, so if this House supported a second referendum it would be seen by many people as an attempt by those who lost to rerun the contest, and the inference that many would draw is that we did not have faith in their judgment and in our democracy—that we thought they were somehow too foolish, too stupid, too prejudiced to make an appropriate decision. That would do real damage to our democracy, and far from allowing us in this House to concentrate on the NHS, education, the environment and jobs, I am afraid people would see this as not just an exercise in protracted navel-gazing but a thumbing of our nose at the British people. That is why I believe that this is profoundly dangerous and playing with fire in our democracy. I have enormous respect for many of those who make the case and I understand their motivation, but I ask them to use their considerable energy and intellect to focus on making sure that Brexit can work in the interests of their constituents, rather than on attempting to say to their constituents, “You got it wrong.”