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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 12:35 pm, 25th October 2018

My Lords, it is a refrain constantly repeated by Brexiteers and Ministers that, somehow, a new referendum would be undemocratic because it shows contempt for the people’s vote to leave. I wonder whether they have ever thought about what democracy means. It is the essence of democracy that people are allowed to change their mind; dictatorships forbid it. Democracies allow changes of Government, but according to Brexiteers it now seems that we are not allowed to change a referendum verdict. The people’s will is sacrosanct once they have spoken, but then they may not change it even if they want to because the result turns out not to be what they voted for.

But, say Brexiteers, what they voted for was leave and we are leaving. They also voted to leave the customs union, say the Government, and the single market and the jurisdiction of the ECJ—so we are leaving all those. Really? Was that choice on the ballot paper?

As far as I am aware, there was only one, very widely based poll, taken on the eve of the referendum by YouGov, on what people expected from Brexit. There were general replies: “Taking back control, especially of immigration”. But, significantly, all respondents expected no downside from Brexit of any kind but sunny uplands instead. There was nothing about customs unions, the single market or the Irish border. I do not know whether there will be no deal, but I would not bet against it. If there is a deal, it means that the Irish border issue will be fudged or somehow postponed.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, if we leave, the country, and especially the most vulnerable, will be poorer according to the Government’s own forecasts. The result will not be what the people voted for, but the so-called democrats in the Government will do their best to stop the people having a realistic choice. A realistic choice would be between the outcome and remain. It is increasingly clear, as the figures cited by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, show, that that is what the people want. In their opposition to the idea of the people having the final say, Brexiteers show what they really mean about respect for the will of the people.