European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 30th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:58 pm, 30th April 2018

Whatever the legal words, it would be politically binding, by which I mean that the Commons would not seek to overturn it. That is the precedent set by this referendum. We know that, at the time, the vast majority of Members of the House of Commons opposed the outcome of the referendum. They accepted it, though, because that was the political reality, whether it was technically a binding referendum or not. However the people vote if there is a further referendum, that will be taken by the Commons as a binding mandate from the people.

We have to accept that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit process, the country is now very deeply divided. Anybody who has been out canvassing in recent weeks will be only too well aware of that. Many Members of your Lordships’ House will know how keenly their children and grandchildren feel on this issue. All of us who are engaged in public life have a duty to reduce this division in the years ahead, but that great challenge now confronts us, referendum or no referendum.

Finally, it is argued that there will be no time for a referendum before we are set to leave the EU on 29 March next year. The noble Lords who are proposing the amendment accept that this is a possibility. That is why it provides for the Government to seek an extension of the Article 50 period, if necessary, to allow a referendum to be held. We believe that, in practice, such a request would be granted. There are many uncertainties—