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Withdrawal Agreement: Public Vote

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 16 May 2019

1. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of a public vote on the EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration. (910916)

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of a public vote on the EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration. (910921)

16. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of a public vote on the EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration. (910935)

I have regular discussions with my ministerial colleagues, but those discussions are always short because we agree that it would be a bad idea.

Einstein is widely credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times but expecting different results. If the Government intend to bring their withdrawal agreement back to Parliament in the form of a Bill, is it not the case that it is only likely to receive any sort of majority in this House on condition of an amendment in support of a public vote? Does the Secretary of State accept, in the words of his own Chancellor, that that is a “perfectly credible proposition”?

As the hon. Gentleman should know, part of the reason we have been having discussions with his Front-Bench colleagues is to look at how the legislation might evolve to take on board the earlier votes by the House. One could make a similar accusation against the Labour party. If we look at its policy on a second referendum, we see people such as Len McCluskey saying that it

“risks tearing our society further apart, as the ignored majority believe their views have been scorned”,

while other Labour members say it is the way forward. There is no consistency among Labour Members, and that is part of their problem.

When I met the Prime Minister in March, I put it to her that a public vote is the only way to get us out of the current deadlock. Does the Secretary of State agree?

It is not only that I do not agree; the hon. Lady’s own Front-Bench colleagues do not agree. She says that a public vote is the only way, but that is not the current policy of her party. Her party’s policy is to say that if its deal were accepted, it would not put it to a public vote. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady asks what I think, but I answered that at the start of my response. I do not agree that a public vote is the way forward; the vote is for Members of this House, who cannot make a decision. The point is that I am not the only one who thinks that a public vote is not the way forward; the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench colleagues think so too, because it is not their current policy.

What about a vote on the Prime Minister’s deal? In a few weeks’ time, the Prime Minister will have asked MPs no fewer than four times whether we agree with her deal. Does the Secretary of State not think it would be fair to ask the public once whether they agree with the deal?

Again, the hon. Gentleman will need to look at the Bill when it comes forward. What we voted for on previous occasions was a meaningful vote. We have been in discussions with Opposition parties and, as referenced in an earlier question, Members across the House, to take on board some of the concerns raised in those debates, and those will be reflected in the legislation brought to the House.

The Secretary of State could point out that the Opposition’s wish will be granted when the European elections take place next Thursday. That will be a genuine vote on what people think in this country. We will need to look at the policies of the party that finishes up with the most votes. Does he agree that that will clearly show what the people want?

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that we have had a people’s vote. It was won in 2016 and that was reflected in the Labour party’s manifesto. Once again, we hear Labour Members saying one thing to the electorate when they face an election but doing another when they come to the House.

I do not think that any Member of this House thinks that my right hon. Friend is anything other than virtuous in all that he does. In our commitment to bring forward the withdrawal agreement Bill, we have listened to the concerns of Members across the House and have reflected that in the draft legislation that is being prepared. It will be for Members to reach a decision on that or one of the two other alternatives—either we risk not leaving at all, which I think would be a huge betrayal of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave, or we leave with no deal, which would create issues for the Union and the economic disruption that would flow.

Many of my constituents tell me that they would not vote in a second referendum because they are angry and frustrated that Parliament has not delivered on the first one. Does the Secretary of State agree that a second referendum would continue the divisiveness and uncertainty, and would almost certainly not settle the issue, because the turnout would be smaller?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend on that. I would urge his constituents to vote, and to vote Conservative, in that election, but he is right to say that any such second referendum would be both divisive and not necessarily decisive. They have perhaps taken their lead from many Members of the House, who seem unwilling to confront the real choice that lies before them and vote, which is why they are seeking to have a second referendum.

The Government’s position is that it is democratic to come back to the House of Commons for the fourth time to try to persuade us to change our minds. They are entitled to try, although it may be unwise. Can the Secretary of State explain to the House, therefore, why it is undemocratic to ask the British people, given what we now know, whether they wish to change their minds or not?

Because we had a decision; we gave the British public that and we have not delivered on it. I would have much more time for the right hon. Gentleman’s position if behind the language of a confirmatory vote he wanted to explore the different ways of leaving: if he was saying, “The public gave a clear instruction to leave, but we want to have a vote between leaving with the Prime Minister’s deal or leaving with no deal.” But his position is to revoke. He does not want to say that he supports revoking, so he wants to hide behind this veneer, façade and impression whereby this can be can done through a second referendum. I urge him to have some candour and say he wants to revoke. Come out and say it. That seems to be the right hon. Gentleman’s position and that is what is he should say.

I want to revoke article 50 and so do the vast majority of my constituents. Does the Secretary of State not see the glaring failure of logic in giving this House four votes but not being prepared to give the population a second vote? That is why people who do want to remain in the EU will be voting for the Scottish National party in the forthcoming European elections in Scotland.

Well now, what is always glaring from SNP Members is their desire to overturn democratic decisions. They did this on the referendum in 2014 and they want to do it on the referendum in 2016. They then want to say to this House that a further referendum is one they will abide by, but we know that if they get the wrong result, it will be three strikes and yet again they will say that they are still not out.