Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 3:04 pm, 26th September 2019

It is generally the case that there are not reciprocal voting rights, and our position aligns with that of virtually every other European state in that regard, so I do not think we are outriders in the way that the hon. and learned Lady suggests.

People were surprised that we actually delivered on that referendum. We were not the only ones to support holding it. In the Lobby, we won by 544 votes to 53 to give people a say, which is 10:1. Indeed, seven of the eight Liberal Democrat MPs voted for it. That was quite a strong showing, really, for a party that now says that the outcome of the referendum does not count. After we voted for the referendum, we went to the public and made our case. Did any of us make the argument then, as is now being advanced by some, that the referendum was merely advisory? No, we were absolutely clear that this was in or out, remain or leave. Every vote was equal, every vote would count, and whatever the outcome, we would respect it: no caveats, no small print.

As I said to the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton, I supported remain in the campaign but, do you know what, I accepted immediately that we had lost. The British people took a different view, and that was their right. From the moment that result was declared I accepted it, because one thing I believe passionately is that politicians do not get to choose which votes to respect. When we ask the public for an answer and they give us one, we should simply get on and deliver it, even if it was not the result that was desired. The House seemed overwhelmingly to accept this, and it invoked article 50 with very little dissent. Immediately afterwards, we had an election in which 80% of the people voted for parties whose manifestos explicitly supported the United Kingdom leaving the EU. This represented a second democratic event relating to our membership of the European Union and a second mandate from the British people to leave.