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Brexit: People’s Vote

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received on a People’s Vote on Brexit.

My Lords, the Government have been clear that we will not hold a second referendum. A clear majority of the electorate voted to leave the European Union in the people’s vote held in 2016. We must respect both the will of the British people and the democratic process which delivered that result.

My Lords, a people’s vote would have no direct connection to the previous referendum—it is a separate matter entirely. Will the Minister undertake to make sure that the Government, led by either the present incumbent or whoever succeeds her over the next short period, concentrate on examining the incredible number of messages that are coming in to all government departments, including the Minister’s, from people who were leave voters saying that they are now minded to consider changing their minds, bearing in mind the changed circumstances?

The short answer to the noble Lord’s question is no. I do not know where he gets his figures from about the incredible number of messages, because I certainly have not seen any.

My Lords, 48 messages were sent about Mrs May and were able to lead straightaway to an election, so other votes are now awaited. We need votes in the other House on the withdrawal deal and a vote on this Government for their mishandling of Brexit, the NHS waiting lists, the universal credit shambles and much else besides. Will the Minister perhaps undertake to this House to advise Mrs May that the correct way forward for a Prime Minister who has lost control of the Cabinet, the Commons and the country is to call a general election?

I am sure that the Prime Minister will be very grateful for the noble Baroness’s advice. If I get the opportunity, I will, of course, pass on her fond regards.

My Lords, referendums are often described as democratic, but they are not what we usually mean by democratic in this country, where we have a system of representative parliamentary democracy. The effect of having a referendum is to undermine that system because it changes Members of Parliament from being representatives to delegates. Will the Minister look at the situation in the Netherlands, where the Government are considering banning referendums altogether?

I understand the point that my noble friend is making and I realise that this view is widely shared. I must point out, however, that the referendum was agreed to, authorised and voted for by this Parliament. We agreed to ask the people what their verdict was on the European Union.

My Lords, the Prime Minister was very clear that there would not be a general election in 2017. The Prime Minister and the members of her Cabinet who were dispatched last Friday and even on Monday morning were very clear that there was going to be a vote on the withdrawal agreement on Tuesday evening in the House of Commons. There was not such a vote. Therefore, how certain is the Minister that the Prime Minister will not change her mind and allow a people’s vote, assuming that she survives this evening?

Very certain, is the answer to the noble Baroness’s question. As she well knows, to hold a referendum—as with the previous referendum—the Government would need to introduce legislation, and we are not going to do that.

My Lords, in his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, the Minister said that he had seen no representations from anybody on the subject of this Question. On the face of it, it feels a little unlikely that neither he nor any of his colleagues in government have seen any such representations. Can he confirm that and, if it is not strictly true, will he research just how many representations have been received and then write to me?

I was answering the noble Lord truthfully on what representations I had seen, which is what he asked me. I will certainly go back and check with the department, but I receive a lot of correspondence both publicly and privately and I do not recall seeing any such representations. This is not to say that there have not been any letters in the department—there may have been one or two, but I certainly have not seen any on my private email.

My Lords, would the Minister agree with the African sentiment that when two elephants fight, the grass gets hurt? Is it now time to look for reconciliation as a nation and move forward? Is it now time to stop point-scoring and actually listen to one another with a sense of humility, humbleness and kindness and to have more civil discourse? Otherwise, elephants are fighting and the grass is getting hurt.

As on so many things, the most reverend Primate makes important points that we should all take careful heed of.

Does my noble friend accept that the referendum of June 2016 divided this country more bitterly than anything else in living memory? What is the point of exacerbating that division by having another referendum for which there is clearly no groundswell of public opinion? As someone who deeply regrets the result of the referendum of 2016, I endorse, as I hope will my noble friend, the most reverend Primate’s plea for reconciliation.

My noble friend is absolutely correct. There are many arguments against a second referendum, but I think the most powerful one is that it would not necessarily solve anything.

My Lords, the Minister said that a majority of the electorate had voted to leave the European Union. If I recall correctly, 37% voted to leave, 33% voted to remain and 30% did not vote at all. Ministers go around saying that 52% of the British people voted to leave the European Union—I heard Jeremy Hunt say that on TV the other day. Last time I looked, the population of the UK was about 65 million, and we keep getting told that 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. That is about one in four. Does the Minister not agree that Ministers should be a little more precise in their language?

I am happy to agree with the noble Baroness that in the referendum, of the people who voted, the majority voted to leave.