European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 11:15 am, 7th March 2017

My Lords, I agree with the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I have added my name to this all-party amendment and if a vote is called, I will vote for it. What struck me about the referendum campaign as I knocked on hundreds of doors in the south Wales valleys, which are all traditional working-class Labour strongholds, is that the people who were voting leave were voting against something. They were voting against the European Union, but they were not voting in favour of anything. In part that is because they were not told by the leave leadership what the alternative would be. In fact, the leave leaders were deliberately unclear and disagreed with each other as to what it would mean. Some argued that it would be a future like Albania while others argued that it would be in the single market, which was again denied by others. In that sense, the leave campaign left the alternative deliberately ambiguous and now we are in a position, or we will be in the coming months, where that alternative will become clearer.

In every other referendum, including the Welsh referendum in 1997, which as a Minister I helped to organise and lead on behalf of Welsh Labour, it was very clear that you were voting either to establish a Welsh Assembly or for the status quo. The same applied in Scotland in 1997, as it did to the electoral reform referendum in 2011—you were either voting for the alternative vote or to keep the status quo, the first past the post voting system. It was similar in the Scottish independence referendum held in 2014. Everyone knew that, whichever way they voted, it was absolutely crystal clear what they would get. What was different about the referendum held on 23 June last year is that that was not the case. It was unlike any other referendum we have experienced where the consequences of voting for or against were clear to voters; this was not, so we are in a very different position.

I am not disputing the outcome on 23 June. This is not about re-running that referendum. This is about making sure that the democratic process remains democratic and that voters have the final say on the eventual negotiated outcome. It seems to me that a process which is started by a referendum should be completed by a referendum and voters should have a final say on the deal that is negotiated, if indeed any deal is negotiated, although the Prime Minister has made it clear that perhaps none will be and we will move into an even more uncertain future.

Perhaps I may quote in support of my remarks from the last Labour Party conference. Composite 1, moved by the TSSA union and seconded by Newcastle upon Tyne Central Constituency Labour Party, stated this—by the way, it was passed unanimously. I speak from the Labour Benches and I intend to remain on these Benches in the future, unless anyone questions that. The composite says that it,

“recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were

That is Labour Party policy and I am speaking in favour of that policy.

I noticed and welcomed that, in her speech in Committee, the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon—I wish she was the Opposition leader, as opposed to our existing leader, but that is a different matter—said that she disagreed with pressing a referendum at this stage but left the question open. If there was a final demand come the final situation, following clarity on what Britain’s future would hold and the deal that had or had not been negotiated, then a referendum could be called at that stage. She left the door open. I welcome that and I understand the Front Bench’s position.

The truth is that the country was split down the middle on 23 June last year. Yes, leave won, there is no disputing that, and I am not seeking to dispute it, but the country was split down the middle. It is still split down the middle—perhaps even more so. This is the most divisive issue of my political generation. It will continue to be divisive. A referendum that will allow people to have the final say is a way of bringing the country together in deciding on that final say. A process started by a referendum should be completed by a referendum. That is why I support the amendment.