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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:07 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 2:07 pm, 25th October 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Shinkwin. It is also refreshing because we have had 30 consecutive speeches in favour of a referendum and we have finished with two powerful ones from them. I do not relish the prospect of a further referendum. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and others who think that it would be horribly divisive. But I do not think that that can be a sufficient reason in a matter of this importance to funk it. We have to face up to the need for it.

I have always believed that the British people should be able to make as informed a decision as possible on the subject. The decision made in 2016 could not have been informed because the terms of our departure were not then known. So when the terms are known, unless Parliament is confident beyond peradventure that they satisfy what the people voted for in 2016, there is a duty to allow people to review their decision.

Leavers should want that too. The leavers may well win a further referendum as they won the 2016 referendum. If so, although I would personally regret that decision, I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood that it is an outcome greatly to be desired. Then, leavers and remainers will be secure in knowing that the people have taken as informed a choice as possible. There can then be no recrimination if things turn out badly. If they lose, and the people decide to remain, the leavers will then avoid the charge that they have strong-armed the British people into something which, once informed, the British people did not want.

Why, then, should leavers oppose a further referendum? I have always respected those who argue for leaving. I have always acknowledged that there are good arguments for leaving this flawed and in many ways corrupt organisation. But if the reason governing those who oppose a further referendum is their fear that the people may change their mind and vote to stay, I have to say that is not a responsible or even honourable position. People should not be strong-armed into doing something which it turned out that, once informed of the terms, they do not want to do. Maybe the people will vote to leave. Maybe they will not. Without a further referendum we will never know, and this is too important an issue on which to act in ignorance.