Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 4:23 pm, 26th September 2019

In Dulwich and West Norwood, 77% of people voted to remain in the EU—the seventh highest pro-remain vote in the country. My constituents are not remoaners; they are not anti-democratic. They are citizens with deeply held and sincere convictions. Yet since June 2016, 77% of my constituents and 48% of voters across the country have been told that we must be quiet and that our views no longer count. We have been told to be silent in the face of the Government’s own evidence that Brexit will harm the UK economy. We have been told to be silent as we raise important questions about the future of scientific research, supply of medicines, regulation of chemicals and the future of trade. We have been told to be silent as we raise grave concerns—not discussed at all during the referendum campaign—about the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday agreement and peace in Northern Ireland. We have been told to be silent as we have raised concerns about the increase in hate crime and the anxiety of EU nationals living in our communities.

The continual dismissal and denigration of the views of 48% of UK voters—77% of my constituents—has been extraordinary. It is not how Governments should, or usually do, behave in a democracy.

In 2016, faced with a very narrow result, Mrs May had the opportunity to define Brexit in a way that reached across the divide—in a way that took seriously both the result of the advisory referendum and the concerns of almost half of those who voted about the impact of Brexit on our economy, security, rights, and access to medicines. Instead she spent six months saying nothing but “Brexit means Brexit”, while the right of the Tory party, and Nigel Farage, moved into the vacuum and defined Brexit as the hardest, most extreme Brexit possible.

It is a principle of democracy that we all seek to win the argument—that we seek to provide evidence to justify a position, to reassure and persuade those who disagree with us, and ultimately to achieve a mandate to proceed. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead put her Tory-party-facing version of Brexit to the people in 2017, and they took away her majority and her mandate.

In this context, it is no surprise that my constituents’ pro-remain views and their deep fears about what Brexit will mean for them, and for our country as a whole, have only grown and strengthened, these past three years. The Government have done nothing to reassure them; nothing to provide evidence that their concerns are unfounded; nothing to prove that they respect and take seriously their values and their views. Instead we have a Prime Minister who is facing down his opponents with the language of hate, a Government who have failed to provide any assurance that our communities—