Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Tom Brake writes that David Davis needs to reflect on his previous statements about democracy and grant the British people a referendum on the final Brexit deal once the terms are fully known.
"How to negotiate such a change, and how to obtain the approval of the British people for attempting such a historic deal – one which will affect the future not just for them, but for their children and grandchildren. I believe that we can achieve both of these aims with a focussed approach, using the so-called double referendum strategy...The details may be complex, but the primary aim is clear – to get as close as possible to the trading alliance, the common market we all voted for in 1975. Then we present that negotiating package to the British people, and seek their approval for it in a referendum. We would be looking for a clear mandate...In the same Act of Parliament that establishes the Mandate referendum, we also commit the country to a decision referendum, to be held when the EU negotiation is concluded. In that referendum the British people would either approve the new negotiated relationship, or if it was not good enough, it would trigger the negotiation to leave the Union. The aim of this strategy is to give the British people the final say, but it is also to massively reinforce the legitimacy and negotiating power of the British negotiating team."
Reading the above passage, you might think a Liberal Democrat wrote it. After all, we’ve long said that the people, not politicians, should decide the terms of a negotiation with the EU. But no, these words were spoken by none other than David Davis, the man responsible for executing our exit from the EU. Now, before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way — I accept the results of the referendum and concede that exiting the EU is what we have now embarked on. The will of the people has been clearly expressed. However, how we go about the exit matters immensely. I don’t accept the notion that it is okay to give the Conservatives carte blanche to negotiate our future without adequate scrutiny, especially if the “mandate” that has placed them in this position of authority lacks legitimacy. Let’s not forget that we're here because voters were told they’d be receiving better health care, that our NHS would be receiving an extra £350 million per week, that immigration would be slashed, that we’d stop paying into the EU budget, that we’d be better positioned economically and that we’d be richer in sovereignty. We now know that none of this was ever true, that these preposterous promises were simply undeliverable.
Triggering article 50 marks the official beginning of a fight to shape the UK’s way of life for generations to come, as Mr Davis has noted, for our ‘children and grandchildren’. But the government have turned this whole process into a debate on ideological lines, focused more on their short-term electoral calculations rather than the long-term impacts this hard exit will have on the country. We mustn’t allow political stubbornness to stand in the way of pragmatism. We need to get this right. This issue needs the proper scrutiny it deserves; it's an issue so great that it supersedes partisan lines, and requires thoughtful input from across the spectrum. And yes, this includes the people of Britain, in a referendum on the terms of the deal, as Mr Davis has so eloquently suggested in the past.
We can’t allow this government to impose a reckless hard Brexit deal on the people without giving them their say, especially since our chief negotiator is a Prime Minister that they did not elect. Mr Davis believes (or did at one point anyway) that the British people should have the final say, and I agree. Considering the generations to come, we cannot forget that 70% of 18-24-year-olds, the people who will fully inherit the outcome of these negotiations, did not vote for this future. To ignore them, is to disrespect them. Tens of thousands of people marched on Westminster last weekend in solidarity to tell this government to listen, reminding all MPs of who's really in charge. As polling for BritainThinks indicates, expectations for this government’s Brexit deal are very high. And as many Leavers already have begun to realise, by separating the facts from the fictions they were fraudulently sold, we are being led down a dangerous path. It is, therefore, imperative that we continue to fight to keep this government honest. Because at the end of the day, our prosperity is on the line, and this government must not pull us out of the Single Market without everyone being able to express a view.
As Mr Davis has previously suggested, a second referendum on the deal will ‘give the British people the final say’ and make the outcome more legitimate. As Mr Davis has also noted, ‘If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy’. It must therefore be permissible that we allow people to alter their views as government heads for a hard Brexit, especially if the people controlling our democracy were badly deceived. It's time for Mr Davis to find his conscience, do the right thing, and walk his talk.
Tom Brake is the Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Shadow Leader of the House of Commons & Chief Whip. He is the MP for Carshalton and Wallington.