On 5 September, I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on an e-petition: EU referendum rules triggering a second EU referendum. The petition received over four million signatures.
Here is my speech.
I will try to cut out from my speech all the points that have already been made, to allow my colleagues time to speak.
Some 23,815 people in Bristol West signed this e-petition – I think that was the second-highest number – and in the referendum more than 80 per cent of my constituents voted to remain. Many have told me of their sadness at the result. I know it will make some of my constituents unhappy, but I believe it is not right to hold a second referendum.
I shall briefly give the arguments for a second referendum and why I do not support them. Some have said that they feel the ‘Leave’ campaign was based on misinformation or lack of clear information; as others have said, that can also be said of the ‘Remain’ campaign that I fought as part of. Another argument for a second referendum is that the details of the deal were not known or clear at the time of the first; my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made good points on that topic. Others have said that they would like MPs to scrutinise the detail of the deal, to hold the Government to account and to hold the Prime Minister’s feet metaphorically to the fire over every detail, but that they do not want another referendum. That is where my heart lies, and I feel many of my constituents are going to back me on it – I hope most will, if they hear my reasons.
Some of my constituents have told me that, no matter how sad they are, they feel it is important to respect the democratic process. Many people felt involved in this referendum and were moved to vote for the first time in years. It would be tragic if those people were given the idea that their views had been ridden roughshod over and were told that they did not count. However, my constituents have many concerns and want to ensure that there is proper democratic accountability, and I believe that that is where the solution lies. We need to act in a way that does not tell voters who voted leave that their views can be dismissed, but that also takes into account those who are concerned about what happens next.
The Prime Minister has indicated that the Government will not put the Brexit settlement to a vote in the House of Commons before Article 50 is invoked. Indeed, I sat through the statement made earlier by the Secretary of State for Brexit and he did not mention that. In the referendum campaign, ‘Leave’ campaigners said repeatedly that Parliament should be sovereign. I particularly recall the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) making much of that point in each of our many vigorous, lively and enjoyable debates. I believe parliamentary sovereignty is now being flouted, because the House is being denied the opportunity to debate the Brexit settlement fully and to vote on it before Article 50 is triggered and the clock starts to tick. Once it is triggered, we all know that that will be it: we will be out in two years, with or without a good deal.
People of all views on Brexit, whether they voted to leave or remain in the referendum, will want to know at least some of the details and that they are going to be carefully scrutinised. They will want their views to be represented in Parliament by their democratically elected Members of Parliament and for them to be given a vote or votes on that settlement. I believe many, perhaps most, of those people calling for a second referendum – I hope that includes my own constituents – would be satisfied with delegating scrutiny of the detail to their elected Member, and for us to be trusted to vote against or for invoking Article 50, until we are satisfied that it is a good deal for the UK. Again, I am sure that those who voted ‘Leave’ would also want us to have that scrutiny.
Finally, I believe that my constituents want to know that I have been given the chance to defend workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer regulations; to stand up for the EU citizens who have made Bristol their home; to ensure that the world-class university in my constituency has had the opportunity to renegotiate partnerships to carry out vital research; and to find ways for Airbus and other big and small local employers to manage their multi-European workforce and the rules and regulations of trade. They want to know that I will be able to represent them in a debate and in a vote. If the Government would be so kind as to agree that Article 50 will not be triggered without the consent of Parliament first, a clear plan in place, and full and proper scrutiny of that negotiated plan, I believe that that would satisfy most of those who currently ask for a second referendum, including the people of Bristol West who I represent.
You can watch the speech below – it’s best to click the ‘full screen’ button.