Stewart Malcolm McDonald has made a superb speech. I want to pick up his statement that free movement is very important, and that the economy is very important. I would say that it is more the case that it is free markets that have enabled people to move around the European Union and to go on holidays to other European Union countries. That has really broken down barriers. Also, on the military side of things, NATO has been an incredibly important part of what has kept us together and has brought us peace in our time.
In terms of the debate we are now having, there is a huge question of trust in our democracy and, if we get this wrong, it can damage our democracy. I believe that part of the debate that we have been having has been undermining people’s recognition of our democracy. The referendum was not an opinion poll that people were asked to participate in. It was an instruction from the country to leave the European Union, and it must be seen as such. There are different ways of interpreting that instruction, but I do wonder about some of the things that people say about the referendum.
Some people talk about the influences on the British people during the campaign—they claim that Russia had an influence. Some people allege that the electorate were ignorant or not sufficiently informed. Some of that rhetoric is pretty disappointing. My view is that, in the polling booth, the vast majority of people were responding to their lived experience within the European Union over a period of years or decades. The importance of free markets has just been highlighted. We joined the Common Market. Over a period of years we saw it transform into the EEC, then the EC, then the EU, and now we are on the verge of creating a united states of Europe. We can see the External Action Service. We can see the diplomatic and foreign service side of the European Union. We can see the developing European Union military. We can see these things happening. We can see that, with ever-closer union, there is a track that the European is on, and it is a question of whether we go quickly or slowly. We recognise that we are on that track into ever-closer union, so we must decide whether to continue along that track or leave. The British people could see where we came from, where we are and where we are going, and, having seen that clearly, chose to leave.
I believe that the withdrawal agreement will be defeated on Tuesday; there is overwhelming opposition to it, which is not to say that there is any particular support for any other solution. I am very concerned that this defeat will be seen as an opportunity to extend article 50, although we know that the European Union most effectively concludes negotiations towards the end—the last week, day or hour. The defeat might even be seen as an opportunity to cancel article 50, have a fundamental renegotiation and go for the Norway option, perhaps. We have been in this process for well over two years. Can we really tell the British people that we ought to start again and seek a brand new option?
I am even more concerned about having a second referendum; actually, precedent suggests that the time- scale for EU referendums is once in every 41 years. The British people have given their instruction to Parliament. If we disregard the vote, saying that the people were ignorant or not sufficiently well informed by their betters, that will be incredibly damaging to our democracy. We cannot and should not do that. Why would people bother to vote again if this vote was so easily dismissed?
Those who demand a “good, well informed” referendum often give no answer to the issue of what the question would be. From what I can see, there would be three options. Remain would definitely be on the ballot paper, even though it was rejected decisively first time around. A World Trade Organisation-rules Brexit would probably also be on it, as would the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. In that referendum, the Brexit withdrawal agreement and WTO options could get 33% of the vote each, while remain could get 34% and so win. That result would be considered decisive. We do not know where we will end up if we go down the route of having an additional referendum. We should be cautious about being so dismissive.
I believe that we can unite the British people. Their understanding of leave is fairly clear already—most people would understand Brexit to mean taking back control of our money, borders, laws and trade. Most people also want more direct democracy—not referendums, but in terms of voting for the Member of Parliament who makes the decisions.