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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:50 am on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 11:50 am, 25th October 2018

I am glad that I have so quickly persuaded the noble Lord.

The second matter that I wish to draw to the House’s attention is the unremitting and, it must be admitted, highly successful campaign against the Liberal Democrats conducted by the Conservatives in the 2015 general election. However, the consequence of that was to remove the need for a further coalition, which could have been David Cameron’s defence—as it was between 2010 and 2015—against Conservative MPs hell-bent on withdrawal. The consequence of that is that the credibility of the Government’s position has been substantially undermined, as indeed it was by the assumption on the part of Mrs May that a general election would produce an increased government majority and strengthen her hand. All those weaken the negotiating strength of the Government, which has been further undermined by the civil war in the Conservative Party, where there is still open and reckless ambition and unrepentant revolt—notwithstanding what may be thought to be the temporary ceasefire of last night.

The Prime Minister—who would have believed it?—has found it embarrassingly necessary to use a threat to the European Union that if she were to be replaced because of a failure to reach an accommodation with the 27 leaders, then negotiations with a successor would be even more difficult. Baroness Thatcher would not have approved.

We do not know what the final package put before Parliament will be, but the chances of it being approved by the Commons melt by the hour, as bitterness and abuse replace loyalty and respect. Who will bet the farm that the Government will get any proposal brought back by the Prime Minster through the House of Commons?

What are those who oppose a second vote afraid of? If they are as confident as some of those quotations have suggested, what is there to be lost, so far as they are concerned? I understand those who take the view that in a parliamentary democracy we should not rely on a referendum, but that door was opened when the decision was taken to hold a referendum as to whether we should stay or leave. Some claim that it would be undemocratic to allow such a vote—that it is a novel and dangerous principle to give the people of the United Kingdom the chance to pass judgment on proposals which are a world away from what they were promised, and which will have an impact for decades to come.

Parliament, on the other hand, is sovereign; it can change its mind, and it frequently does. Sometimes we repeal legislation which has been passed earlier in the same Session. It is argued that the people of the United Kingdom cannot be given the same opportunity: that, once cast, the vote to leave must be implemented, whatever the political, economic or social consequences; that the resulting, inevitable uncertainties must be accepted, whatever the financial cost; and perhaps—I speak as someone who comes from north of the border—that the risk of the break-up of the United Kingdom must be accepted, along with the risk of the destabilisation of the island of Ireland.

In the course of the referendum campaign, no one told the country that a decision to leave would result in the depreciation of the pound, an increase in inflation and a rise in the cost of living. No one told the country that we might have to stockpile medicine and food. No one told the country that the car industry would be beset by uncertainty. Where now is the letter of comfort given to Nissan, to which such great importance was attached? It has since been regarded as insufficient, so far as Nissan is concerned.

The people were assured that the vote to leave would be followed by a trouble-free and successful exit, and that the economy would prosper. What else was meant by the three unwise men to whom I have already referred? More than that, the people were given to believe that their Government would conduct the necessary negotiations in an effective and unified way. In all of these expectations, they have been failed. They have been failed by incoherence and incompetence. The people of Britain have a right to be allowed to pass judgment on any deal forged in such circumstances. They should be given that opportunity. I beg to move.