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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:39 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 1:39 pm, 25th October 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, on the introduction of this very important debate. I have spoken little but have listened a lot to these matters over many months and have become increasingly alarmed at the Government’s conduct of these affairs. I should be clear that I was, and continue to be, a remainer.

As of today, we have no overall deal on the withdrawal Bill, nor on the political declaration on our future relationship with the EU. Should there be a deal agreed by the EU and the Prime Minister, there is no certainty that it would pass muster in the House of Commons. The possible thrust of any deal is not likely to attract our support, given the perceived threat to jobs, freedom of movement and peace in Northern Ireland. We do not expect any deal negotiated by the Prime Minister to satisfy the six tests which my party has laid down as being necessary for our support. We would, of course, strongly oppose any no-deal Brexit, not least because of its hugely negative impact on the economy.

It is not difficult to outline the challenges; it is more difficult to see the solutions. This is no wonder, given the cavalier approach to the original referendum adopted by David Cameron, which simply did not lay out the steps and the consequences of alternative outcomes.

So what about a second people’s vote? The key argument in favour of a second referendum, which I support, is that the full consequences of withdrawal—the unpicking of 40-plus years of increasingly closer integration—could not possibly have been fully contemplated and known when the vote took place. We need consider only the monumental significance for Ireland and some of the budget issues, and reflect on the huge range of matters covered in reports from your Lordships’ House over recent months. Just today, issues have been raised about medicines and the ports. Therefore, as a matter of principle, the public should be provided with an opportunity to reaffirm, or otherwise, their initial view, in light of the mass of detail that has emerged as the negotiations have ensued. This should run even if a deal was supported by the Commons.

Those who oppose this position argue that this is in fact no different to what happens at our national elections, where voters might make up their minds on an amalgam of matters, with the mix varying from voter to voter. It is then left to the Government to implement as best they can. That position is not without some logic, but given the scale and long-term significance of what is at stake, and concerns about the veracity of the information that was provided in the campaign, I favour some form of people’s vote.

Of course, all this begs the question of whether it is feasible to hold a further referendum, and we have heard several contributions on that today. The Constitution Unit has offered us its view on the practicalities of a second referendum. Given that it would be difficult to conduct such a poll before the departure date of 29 March, it considers that the Article 50 period would need to be extended. The process would need primary legislation. It would need question testing and processes for designating lead campaigners. There is the question of whether, in the interests of cohesion, and given the fractious nature of our debate to date, it would demand three questions: deal, no deal or stay. The unit stresses the importance of conducting the vote in a manner which maximises legitimacy, where the options and consequences are clear. It would require a vote in Parliament.

I support a second vote, although this does not necessarily have to take place by way of a referendum. I prefer these matters to be put to the public in a general election where they can vote, not only on the issue, but on the team they want to take the matter forward. They can put an end to the incompetence which has characterised so much of the negotiations, and which many contributions today have reflected on.