The UK and the EU
The UK and the EU

Brexit update and my current thoughts on a People’s Vote

I’m aware that any mention of Brexit these days tends to be met with hefty sighs; usually coupled in Bristol West with looks of horror, and occasionally with calls to ‘just get on with it’.

But many of my constituents continue to press me to take action to stop what they see as a looming catastrophe. You’ll find a list of some of what I’m doing, as a remainer, to fight Brexit elsewhere on this website. I’ll update this regularly as I believe it’s important for all my constituents to be kept informed about what I’m doing.

It’s also important that they have the chance to tell me if there’s anything else they’d like me to do. I’ve held, and continue to hold, regular public meetings for any constituent to raise questions and give their views on the UK’s relationship with the EU. I’ve had Labour’s EU Spokesperson Sir Keir Starmer down for one of these meetings, which was greatly valued, and Clare Moody MEP, who has been a tireless campaigner against Brexit, and has now joined the call for a People’s Vote. My next public meeting in on Saturday 13 October, and any Bristol West constituent is welcome to register to attend it.

I also meet regularly with local businesses and employers of all sizes, to give them information, hear their views and assess their readiness for Brexit, and attempt to help them. As much as I do not want Brexit to happen and will do whatever I can to stop it, I cannot ignore the need to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, as this would affect my constituents hugely.

I was pleased that last week’s Labour Party conference confirmed our policy that, if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails our six tests, we’ll vote against it; and, if Parliament as a whole votes it down, all options must be put to government for consideration. This includes a further public vote (also known as a second or third referendum, or People’s Vote, or final say).

My concerns about the People’s Vote as the strategy for the way out of any, or hard, Brexit are still there, though I continue to talk with colleagues and campaigners on all sides. Here, as succinctly as I can put it, is my current thinking, which I hope will be useful.

As a remainer, I don’t want to risk making it even more likely we’ll end up crashing out of the EU without any deal – a so-called Hard Brexit. There are several ways this could happen:

  • the Prime Minister could fail to get any deal;
  • Parliament could vote down a deal and the Prime Minister could then insist we crash out (we have no legislation to force her to halt this process, as unfortunately Tory MP Dominic Grieve voted against his own amendment recently which could have prevented this, taking other critically important votes with him); or
  • Parliament convinces government to hold a further public vote and we lose again.

If the latter, not only will we still be leaving full membership, we’ll also have lost all political space for any close relationship, including membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. We’ll also have lost any leverage for a return to full membership any time soon.

Ideally, of course, I want us to remain a full member of the EU and I cannot state this strongly enough. However, it would be irresponsible of me to assume that being a remainer automatically leads to support for a People’s Vote, without doing proper and full scrutiny of the various risks and the strategy for winning such a vote. Unfortunately, while many people are able to point out the flaws with the last vote, nobody has, as far as I can see, worked out a strategy for winning another one. I’d obviously like to be proved wrong on this assertion.

I want us to be able to negotiate an extension to Article 50, stay in the Single Market and Customs Union and ideally maintain regulatory alignment completely, so it would be relatively straightforward for us to reapply for full membership.

At the moment, the technical and political aspects of how we even get to a further public vote are by no means easy or guaranteed, though there are now some ideas circulating about the possible methods which could be used.

As I’ve said, I’ve yet to see a campaign strategy for how we win any such vote, if we were to achieve the legislative steps needed. One of the difficulties will be what to put on the ballot paper – deal; crash out with no deal; remain? In which case, some pragmatists, probably many, who are at heart remainers, are likely to vote for a mediocre deal out of fear we’d end up with no deal. Certainly that’s reflected in the conversations I’ve been having with local businesses, who fear no deal more than anything.

If Parliament has voted down the deal, however, it may be that we can only justify going back to the country with no deal or remain on the ballot paper – that could well appeal to the hard Brexiteers, ironically. However, again, we have the problem that the Leave campaign cheated last time, and there’s no sign from the government that they intend to address the problems of that process any time soon, and definitely not before next March. So we would have roughly the same referendum as in 2016, but with cheaters feeling that they can get away with cheating again. And if we end up with another leave vote, there’s no political justification for negotiating a transition period in the Single Market and Customs Union, or for applying for an extension to Article 50. We would be out.

However, at the Labour Party conference Sir Keir Starmer made it very clear that, following the Parliamentary vote, a further public vote should be considered as one of the options for how to proceed. To quote Keir, ‘Nobody is ruling out remain’ on the ballot paper of such a vote. This is close to what the People’s Vote campaign website is calling for and I support this position.

I remain open-minded and listening to all the arguments. And meeting regularly with constituents, large employers and local businesses of all sizes to discuss their concerns is extremely helpful.

In short, I oppose Brexit, I believe it is bad for Bristol and the whole country, and I want a Parliamentary vote on the deal. I remain to be convinced that a People’s Vote would end with the result that fellow remainers want, and I’m concerned that campaigning for a further public vote risks taking us even further away from the EU. But I do support it being one of the routes out of Brexit under consideration, and I do hope that those leading the People’s Vote campaign have a well thought-through strategy for winning this vote.

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