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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:57 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 12:57 pm, 25th October 2018

My Lords, I say to those who take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that to permit voters to change their minds in changed circumstances if they wish, or to stick to their guns if not, is an affirmation, not a denial, of democracy. Others have spoken of the lack of clarity of the leave campaign. I debated against Jacob Rees-Mogg, who promised the students of Sussex University—who were largely unimpressed—a global Britain, free trade deals and an end to free movement, while Daniel Hannan MEP courageously told a more reactionary Eastbourne audience that he favoured staying in the single market and continued freedom of movement.

The Government’s position is now clear, unachievable as it may be: leave the customs union, leave the single market, no hard border with the Republic, and one regulatory framework for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Without all that, they say there will be no deal, with all that that means for jobs, travel, borders, food, medicines and so on, yet the Government will deny the people any further say. They say Parliament will have a meaningful vote, defined by the Minister as a vote between deal and no deal. But what if there is no deal? What would the meaningful vote be then—no deal or remain? Could Parliament alone legitimately overturn the 2016 result? It certainly could not insist on a return to the negotiating table; it is too late for that, and it would not achieve anything. Will the Minister give us the answers?

So what are the prospects? Will the EU back down on a backstop? I believe no. We agreed it in December, and for the EU, it is fundamental. Will an extension of the implementation period that is time-limited or terminable at the UK’s will make any difference to the EU? I think not. Will the Government back down on our remaining in the customs union indefinitely? Plainly not. Will the Government back down on a single regime for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK? No, they would lose the support of the DUP if they did and could not govern.

If there is no deal, would not the Government’s best way out be a referendum between no deal and remain, rather than risk losing a confidence vote? The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is hardly relevant here, because no other Government could be formed within 14 days. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I believe that we would get an extension to hold a referendum. It would also be in Labour’s interest, given its divisions, to commit to a people’s vote. Its favoured general election would inevitably and rightly be concerned with multiple issues facing our country, not just Brexit.

If we get a people’s vote, may we talk about the issues with more respect than last time for the rules, the truth and each other—not just about the economy, but about peace and international co-operation, the environment and climate change, cross-border security, education and research and the value of freedom of movement to our young people? Let us be ambitious for our country and for our continent.