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Brexit: People’s Vote - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Finkelstein Lord Finkelstein Conservative 1:15 pm, 25th October 2018

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many compelling speeches. I start by telling noble Lords about an article that I did not write in the Times. About two weeks before the referendum in Scotland, I consulted a friend who was working on the union campaign. “We’re going to win,” he said, “But I have one remaining worry. I’m concerned that Alex Salmond will offer voters a second referendum”. If he does that, my friend said, “We will lose 65-35 or worse”. The risk of supporting independence would have been removed. I realised that he was right, and the thought was powerful. I decided that I had better not write a column about it, because I did not want to help end the union by giving Mr Salmond any ideas.

If, during the European referendum, we had said that there was going to be a second chance to vote, it would have changed the result profoundly. Leave would have won a heavy victory and would have established a national consensus behind Brexit. Any second vote would have started in a fundamentally different place. But during all the debates in Parliament no one suggested two votes; no one proposed a second referendum. A second referendum might easily be even more divisive than the first. I respect the hopes of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that it would be an urbane discussion on climate change—good luck with that. It would also very likely produce an outcome that remains disputed. Let us be clear that this so-called people’s vote, if it ever took place, would indeed be a second referendum. The idea at the Labour conference that it might be a referendum without a remain option was obviously ridiculous. Mr Corbyn appeared to suggest that we might be offered two options in such a referendum, both of which he was against.

What is being proposed now is a fresh vote on Brexit. I agree with almost every argument that I have heard about the damage of Brexit. I voted remain and I agree with them partly because I made those arguments myself in the campaign. But we lost. That is what the referendum was about: testing public support for precisely the arguments and threats that we are now repeating in this Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was auditioning for “Just a Minute”—he was all right on hesitation and deviation but not on repetition. Proposing that now, when we did not say previously that we should have a second referendum, is highly undesirable and not a costless option. Millions will feel that we have betrayed our promise. Some are even suggesting a three-option ballot using preference voting; in other words, suggesting that we defeat the result of the last referendum using the voting system rejected in the referendum before that.

We promised people they could make the choice in an up and down referendum. A second referendum is therefore an outcome to be avoided if it can be. But to say this is not enough, I am afraid. I finish with an observation and a warning. The observation is that, if Parliament cannot agree on a deal, there may well be a second referendum, however undesirable. The warning is to my Brexiteer friends. Having voted to remain, there are many of us who regard it as our constitutional duty to make our very best efforts in good faith to deliver Brexit. We do not, however, expect to be making that good faith effort alone. I am not going to make it by myself. You cannot look to us to deliver your Brexit if you will not make compromises yourself. You cannot expect us to tip the country into chaos because you will not make the good faith effort that you demand from us. Good faith cannot be a one-way street. So the warning is this, and I hope you are listening and understand that I am not alone: you cannot take the rest of us for granted.