Leaving the European Union — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:48 pm, 4th February 2019

I want to make progress. Now that we have defined Brexit options on the table, a majority of people—if we trust the polling—would vote to remain. How many people actually voted for a no-deal Brexit? Eight million people? Certainly not as many as would vote to stay in the European Union. How many people would vote for a no-deal Brexit or the Prime Minister’s Brexit? The fundamental flaw of the 2016 Brexit vote, as I insist on saying, was that “Brexit” was not defined.

In all honesty, if we leave and want to do Brexit properly, we have to give the final say to the people, because Parliament is divided. That is why we are here; I believe in Parliament. There is no majority for a no-deal Brexit, yet the people who write to me the most seem to be those who want us to leave without a deal. If we strip the numbers down, however, we see that they are a minority of 30% maybe—not an all-out majority. We need to clarify things with the British people. That is why we need an extension of article 50.

I understand that the European Union will agree to an extension if either a general election or a people’s vote is on the table. I hope that an extension of article 50 would give us and the British people time to properly discuss all the options. That would mean discussion in citizens’ assemblies—as proposed by the amendment tabled by Stella Creasy, which I supported—so that we can properly discuss the things on the table, rather than being drowned out by media hysteria and by political interests.

People visiting the Electoral Reform Society website will see that it held a citizens’ assembly in Manchester, post-Brexit, with mostly Brexiteer focus groups. The choice of that citizens’ assembly was for a very close relationship with the European Union—including single market and customs union membership—that I would call “Brexit in name only”. That is what people think we should do because, in the end, we do not want a Brexit that damages our economy or our security prospects. If people want a Brexit that truly serves their interests, they will come to the conclusion that the best deal is the one that we already have: membership of the European Union. But hey-ho! Let us put the choice to the people: a painless Brexit, a painful Brexit or a pointless Brexit.

I believe that people will come to the conclusion that the best deal is membership of the European Union and not the deal on the table. Let us ask the people again; let us have an extension of article 50; let us have proper grown-up discussions with members of the public in proper focus groups; and let us have a referendum and see what the people say. Let us ask for an extension of article 50, to which I think the European Union would agree.