EXCLUSIVE: TIM WALKER on a bid to break the Westminster impasse and force a People’s Vote
The Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable is challenging Nicola Sturgeon to join the fight in Parliament for a People’s Vote.
‘We need the SNP’s MPs to vote with us to secure this victory, as the Parliamentary arithmetic is such that abstentions just won’t do,’ says Cable, who has sensed a ‘sea change’ in public attitudes to letting the public have their say on the Government’s final Brexit plan. ‘There is now at least the chance that we can command a Parliamentary majority for a People’s Vote.’
Cable says that, while Jeremy Corbyn himself is still clearly committed to Brexit, he notes that Labour at its conference ‘opened up the possibility’ that it would give the people ‘the final say on any – or no – Brexit deal, with the option of staying in the EU.’
He adds: ‘We know there are Conservative MPs who have yet to publicly back this vote, but who will do so if they believe it can get through Parliament.’
In his letter to the SNP leader, Cable said he welcomed her call to extend the Article 50 negotiation period if the country is faced with the choice of no deal or a ‘blind Brexit,’ but added the ‘crunch time’ on Brexit was now coming and the SNP had to decide where it stood on the issue of a People’s Vote.
‘We are in agreement that Mrs May and the ideologues in her party are pursuing a course that will cause severe economic damage, risking jobs and a lasting recession,’ he writes.
Cable says he is counting on Sturgeon to support him as Corbyn has been ‘reneging on his responsibilities as leader of the official opposition.’ He says Corbyn has failed to attend meetings that he has had to defend British membership of the Single Market and Customs Union with figures such as Ian Blackford of the SNP, Caroline Lucas for the Greens and Liz Saville-Roberts of Plaid Cymru. ‘Corbyn has instead been helping to wave through a Conservative hard Brexit.’
Speaking to The New European, Cable says he appreciates there is a ‘mindset’ in the SNP that a vote for Scottish independence must take precedence over a vote on Brexit, but he says that fails to take into account the urgency of the EU issue and how strongly people feel in Scotland about remaining a member.
‘I think the SNP’s present approach is costing them politically,’ he says. ‘People who support the party are looking to Nicola Sturgeon to do what is right in terms of Brexit.’
Cable says he has watched the Labour and Conservative conferences with a mounting sense of despair. ‘The hard left is leading Labour, and, while they are a lot slicker now at presenting their often barmy policies, their position on Brexit isn’t going to change. They allow people like Sir Keir Starmer to speak, but it’s cynical, as he isn’t in charge. Corbyn, John McDonnell and Len McCluskey aren’t going to give any ground at all.’
Cable says one of the ironies of Brexit is that so far from giving power to the people, it has centralised it more than ever with the concerns of people in Scotland and the island of Ireland increasingly ignored.
‘In terms not just of Scottish independence, but also the Irish Border, I don’t think the architects of Brexit realise what dangerous games they are playing. I welcome Gina Miller going to Newry on the border on Friday to highlight the issues involved and I have had talks myself in Ireland, but too often the concerns of the people of the island of Ireland are being ignored.’
Cable says he hopes the EU will not allow Mrs May to come up with some version of the Chequers deal that ‘fudges the Irish Border issue as it’s in no one’s interests that we kick the can down the road on this issue.’
Cable believes there is still time for a People’s Vote because it looks increasingly unlikely that Mrs May will be able to keep to the Article 50 timetable. ‘If the will is there for a vote, it will happen. I know Labour want a general election, but I can’t see the Conservatives and the DUP allowing that to happen. There will be a parliamentary vote on Mrs May’s deal, but I wonder if enough MPs will be willing to forget about party loyalties. A lot of them, too, are thinking too much about their own best interests in their local constituencies – maybe they have their eyes on taking over at their local college or whatever. A People’s Vote remains in my view this country’s last best hope.’