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My Lords, last Saturday, along with the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Kerslake, and more than 700,000 others, I marched through London. It was an uplifting experience. Clearly, the weather god is on our side—the sun shone on our efforts. One of the most impressive moments was when five MPs from five different parties took to the stage together to make the case for a people’s vote. Unlike my noble friend Lord Lamont, I see nothing Orwellian or absurd in the term “the people’s vote”. It is probably just as well that my noble friend is not in his place, because here I must declare an interest as a director of the People’s Vote Media Hub—which would probably sound terribly Orwellian to him. The reason why the people’s vote has adopted that name is to distinguish itself from the referendum of two years ago. It is not a rerun of that referendum. We are seeking a vote on the terms of any deal that the Government can bring forward. We have to still believe that there will be a deal, of sorts, but even if there is not and what is on offer is no deal, surely the public should have a chance to say whether this is really what they want.
In Parliament Square, Sarah Wollaston, who is a doctor as well as an MP, made the case for why any believer in democracy should support a people’s vote on the deal. It is all about the concept of informed consent. A patient might agree in principle to a certain course of treatment, but if he then learned that the side-effects are likely to be deeply damaging and the chances of success only slight, the attraction of that treatment might lessen and he might decide that he would rather not proceed. If the patient had just turned 18, and the original go-ahead had been provided not by him but by his parents, the individual on the trolley, about to be wheeled into the operating theatre for some potentially life-threatening surgery, might feel that the situation was positively Orwellian.
We are in an extraordinary situation. The Government know that they are trying to do something which will inflict long-term damage on this country. They are doing so when the economy is still fragile. Austerity may be over but the economy is not strong and individuals’ finances are precarious. Last month, credit card spending in the UK reached an all-time record level: £10.7 billion. Last year, spending outstripped earnings by an average of £900 per household. Many of those households have no cushion to help them through the difficulties that Brexit would inflict: higher food prices, job losses, and more taxes to fund that extra cash for the NHS. The rich will be insulated—they are already moving their money offshore. That arch-Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, no less, has increasingly been directing his funds to Dublin. Those who have fared worst over recent years would suffer most from Brexit. This is looking increasingly like a posh boys’ Brexit. Those ordinary people deserve the chance to decide whether they want to consent to the Brexit that is on offer, or not.
It seems that some take the view that the country made its bed two years ago and must now lie in it, no matter how uncomfortable. The public may share that view—I doubt it—but we should at least put the question to them. Why are those who favour a bed of nails so reluctant to ask voters whether they wish to share it?