Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change) 3:04 pm, 3rd April 2019

Maybe the hon. Gentleman was talking—a lot of people were—but I have just indicated that I am talking to amendment (a), because I fear that today will be the last opportunity to talk about indicative votes. That is why I am talking about that now.

What would be on the other half of the ballot paper? It is not for me to say what Brexit choice would be on the ballot paper, but it can clearly be the Prime Minister’s deal, a customs union, a common market 2.0 or no deal. All these individual Brexits have failed to achieve a majority. None of them has been voted on in a combined offer with a people’s vote. Following the indicative votes on Monday, a lot of Members immediately understood that the next indicative voting options would include composite motions—for example, the Prime Minister’s deal plus a people’s vote, or a customs union plus a people’s vote. I worry that today’s agenda is deliberately designed to ensure that such composite motions are never considered by Parliament.

The indicative vote process has been a less divisive and less tribal process for finding a majority position. Testing the Prime Minister’s deal with a people’s vote must be done if indicative votes are to mean anything. There are about 200 Conservative Members who have voted three times for the Prime Minister’s deal, and it is Government policy. Add it to a people’s vote and we leave the EU in the way that the Conservative Government want, subject to the people confirming it.

In the same way, the Labour party has held a double position for six months, both supporting a people’s vote or referendum and wanting a softer Brexit than the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today come to an agreement about a soft Brexit option, the assumption is that it will pass into law without a people’s vote and we will leave the EU on 22 May. An indicative vote on a Brexit deal plus a people’s vote would force some difficult choices on to many Members in this House.

Today is possibly the last day of Parliament taking control, not because Parliament has finished the indicative vote process, but because the original supporters are now scared of the outcomes. Just when Parliament could reach a majority, or at least try something that could command the support of 400 MPs, the process might be terminated. No wonder people say that our parliamentary democracy is broken.

Where to go now for at least 50% of the British people who want to stay in the European Union? Where to go now for the 1 million people on the “Put it to the People” march 10 days ago? Where to go now for the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50? At least 50% of the population are represented in Parliament by only about 10% of MPs. That is why our democracy is broken. I hope very much that the indicative votes process will continue until we have truly tested all options, especially composite motions that combine a Brexit and a people’s vote.