People’s Vote/Second Referendum
Protecting the UK’s relationship with the EU is one of my top priorities as your MP. So far, to challenge the government on Brexit, I have:
- Used every possible opportunity to challenge any and all relevant government ministers on Brexit, starting with my first Prime Minister’s Question to the Prime Minister in July 2017.
- Written to ministers and asked Parliamentary questions.
- Spoken in debates, held meetings with ministers and had detailed discussions with constituents.
Subjects I’ve raised include the potential impact of Brexit on: pensions, EU27 citizens in the UK, UK citizens in EU27 countries, the aerospace industry, university, musicians’ ability to tour the EU, trade agreements, parliamentary votes, creative industries and more.
In Bristol West, I’ve held meetings and a wide range of different groups, including the general public, employers, trade unions, campaigners, university staff, the creative sector, the health sector and more.
I receive a lot of correspondence asking my opinion on a second referendum on our relationship with the European Union (the ‘People’s Vote’). My response is below:
Thank you for contacting me recently about the campaign for a public vote on Brexit.
First, let me assure you that I campaigned hard for Remain during the 2016 referendum, and still believe that the best relationship we can have with the European Union is full membership. And if, reluctantly, we do have to leave, then at the very least, we should stay in a customs union and Single Market arrangement which would give us most, though not all, of the benefits we currently enjoy. You can see some of the activities I have and continue to carry out in defence of this view on my blog. I’ve also made strong defences of the free movement of people within the EU and I know how important that is to you and to the businesses in Bristol.
Secondly, I can confirm that I will almost certainly be voting against any deal agreed with the EU by this government. I was pessimistic at the start of this process – one of the reasons I was among several MPs in February 2017 to vote against triggering Article 50 – but the government’s incompetence has exceeded my expectations. The Tories have wasted the last two years fighting amongst themselves and insulting our colleagues in other EU countries. As a result, it seems certain that any withdrawal agreement will fall woefully short of what was promised in the referendum campaign.
Labour will judge this deal against six tests, based on the government’s own promises. If the deal fails to meet these tests, as now seems certain, Labour will vote against it and that, of course, includes me.
This parliamentary vote must come before another referendum. (The People’s Vote campaign also agrees with this sequence of events). If Parliament votes down the deal, I believe another public vote is likely to be the only way to break the deadlock. This could be either another referendum or a general election.
I fully support Labour’s policy in this area. As Sir Keir Starmer stated at the Labour Party Conference, we must keep a second referendum on the table, with an option to ‘remain’ on the ballot paper. It’s not clear yet what Parliamentary techniques we can use to push this if there is no deal – but I am in close communication with our EU team and I know they are working on this.
I still have concerns, which I have written more about in my most recent Brexit update. First, I am concerned that, in the absence of a good strategy for winning it, another referendum could push us further from the EU rather than closer. The inequalities and divisions which led to the first referendum result have not gone away. And the lies and cheating in the first referendum have gone largely unchallenged by the government. For these reasons, pro-EU campaigners will need to be sure they can mount a winning campaign. If the leave campaign were to win again, it would be disastrous, as it would give the hard Brexiteers exactly what they want: a further public mandate for a no-deal Brexit, throwing away any chance of staying in a customs union or similar relationship.
There are also more practical hurdles to overcome. Our current laws and the numbers of MPs in different parties mean that it is almost impossible for us to have a further public vote without government support. Past experience shows this is unlikely. The government had to be taken to court before Parliament was allowed to vote on triggering Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU, and has backed away twice from supporting a fully meaningful vote for Parliament on the deal. Labour fought hard to pass amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill – but with mixed results, as we were dependant on the support, or otherwise, of Tory rebels (as a result, Parliament does have a vote on the deal but, as it stands, won’t be able to instruct the government what to do if the deal is voted down).
In short, it is tricky to see how we could get the legislation through to allow a further public vote. There’s also the problem of what the question should be on the ballot paper: whether it should be voting solely on deal or no deal; or deal, no deal or remain; or remain or no deal. Labour will be arguing strongly for remain to be on the ballot paper, if we get this far, and I would of course campaign for remain, as I did last time.
I am a great believer in the achievements of the EU and strongly believe the best place we can be is full membership. For this reason, I am working intensively to challenge the government on their backward-facing attitudes to the EU.
As an MP, I have to play my part in scrutinising the vast amount of legislation the government needs to pass in a few months. This includes secondary legislation – regulations, which are created by government and usually have much less scrutiny than new laws (Bills, which become Acts).
For example, we have around 800 regulatory changes to get through, in limited time, and these look likely to be extremely long – significantly longer than most Bills. This is a pretty alarming prospect, to be blunt, and puts us at risk of regulations going through without adequate scrutiny and challenge.
As your elected representative in Parliament, I welcome your views and comments throughout this process. I will keep fighting to protect the things that people in Bristol care passionately about, including protections for workers and the environment, and keeping the closest possible relationship with the EU. Meanwhile, I strongly urge people from the other 27 EU countries who live or work in the UK, and UK people living and working in the EU 27, to take legal advice. The UK government and other EU governments have made announcements but none of this is law until the Immigration Bill has gone through Parliament and become law (an Act of Parliament). I’ve pushed the government on this and will continue to do so.
I will keep working hard on your behalf to ensure the best route to keeping the closest possible relationship with the EU. This includes the possibility of a further referendum (or People’s Vote) on the deal, with remaining in the EU an option. I will continue to consult widely, listen to the arguments, analyse the evidence and argue for the strongest and closest relationship we can have.
You can help! You can join one of the campaigning groups, you can ask your trade union or workplace what they are doing to prepare for Brexit and let me know about any impact Brexit may have on your life, your family or your job or anything else you think is relevant.
Thank you once again for contacting me.