Uk’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 13 March 2019.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 5:39, 13 March 2019

As we are moving dangerously closer to Brexit day, but with no deal yet agreed, it is finally time to bust the myth of “the will of the people.” Opinion polls tell us that there is now a majority in the country in favour of staying in the EU. However, the Prime Minister and her Government insist on Brexit because they say it is the will of the people. I recently asked the Prime Minister how many of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave in 2016 voted for her deal and how many voted for no deal. She could not answer the question.

Yesterday only 242 Members voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. Today a different and probably rather smaller number will vote to leave the European Union without a deal. According to the Prime Minister’s use of language, both votes deliver the will of the people. The Brexit camp cannot agree what the will of the people is.

It is alarming that Members on the Conservative Benches have given up the argument that leaving the EU is good for the country. The only reason they put forward is that we have to respect the will of the people. Surely that means that they should support every Brexit vote, but they do not do so, and the reason for that is that they are reading into the referendum result their own opinion about Brexit, which has nothing to do with the will of the people. The will of the people is a fig leaf for Members in this House to pursue their own Brexit agenda. We need to see the mantra of the will of the people for what it is: a false argument. It is fake.

There is now a majority in the country for staying in the EU. I am on their side, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, the Green party and the Independent Group. We are united in our view that our future is in the European Union. We stand for peace, collaboration and solving problems together, including the big issue of climate change. Although we represent at least 50% of the people of this country, our side of the argument has been completely sidelined in the past two and a half years. It is now time for Parliament seriously to consider the possibility of staying in the European Union.

In January the Prime Minister’s deal was voted down by 230 votes. Yesterday almost the same deal was voted down by 149 votes. At least 40 Members have changed their minds within two months, not because the deal has essentially changed but because it has been clarified, amplified and explained in more detail. The 2016 referendum took place more than two and a half years ago. Many things about the EU and our membership have been clarified, amplified and explained. The people’s vote coalition on our Benches understands that in a democracy people can change their minds and have a right to do so, just like MPs in this House.

On the false pretence that it is the will of the people, let the Conservative party and the Labour party stand for Brexit. We are standing up for the UK remaining a member of the European Union and for the right of people in this country to have a final say and to change their mind if they so wish.