Lib Dem leader Tim Farron is determined to push for a further referendum on the terms of any exit Brexit deal
I am absolutely clear – I will not allow a deal to be imposed on the British people that no-one has voted for.
This process started in June with democracy and it must not end with a Government stitch-up that leaves us in a far worse situation for the British people, their jobs and our economy.
It has been extremely disappointing to see the lengths to which the Government has gone to avoid scrutiny on the most pressing issue facing our country for generations.
The Government’s backlash to the High Court’s judgement on Article 50 displayed this most evidently, with Liz Truss failing to defend the judiciary after being so disgustingly vilified in the aftermath of the judgement.
Clearly, the rallying call of the Vote Leave campaign for the restoration of ‘British laws, applied by British judges, in British courts’ only applies on judgements that they agree with.
The decision in the High Court was without question the correct judgement, in line with the very principles of our representative parliamentary democracy. Parliament will now rightfully have a say on the Government’s negotiating strategy. It would have been completely undemocratic to allow the Government to negotiate in secret.
What is clear is that people are extremely concerned about the Government’s plans and the impact that Brexit will have on their lives. These worries are real and are not reserved for one side of the debate.
Ultimately, on June 23, the British people were given the opportunity to vote for a departure but not for a destination. That’s why, unless the Government backs our plan to give the public a say, we will vote against triggering Article 50. We want a guarantee that there will be a referendum on the deal at the end of the negotiations, when people can vote for that deal or to remain in Europe. This does not mean that we will vote against Article 50 come what may, but we have a single, simple red line that we want to respect the will of the people. The British people are sovereign and must have the opportunity to say no to a damaging and irresponsible Hard Brexit.
An ICM poll last week showed that only a third of UK voters support Brexit unconditionally – clearly there is a demand for greater openness in this process.
No doubt my party’s decision will be met with accusations that I am undemocratic or frustrating the will of the people. But in a political climate of such uncertainty and lack of direction, it is time that someone was bold, clear and unambiguous on their plans for the direction of this country and that is what the Liberal Democrats will be.
Can Labour really argue that they have a position that is distinctive from the Tories? I think not. Their lack of leadership on this issue has been a stark reminder of the dangers to our democracy of a weak and divided opposition.
In their place, the Liberal Democrats will continue to be the real opposition to the Government and will fight for the people’s right to have a say on their future.
The Conservatives have also displayed a complete vacuum of leadership on the UK’s relationship with the EU at every available opportunity. Despite making the decision to call the referendum in the first place, David Cameron prepared absolutely no strategy for the country in anticipation of a Leave vote. This lack of stability had disastrous effects for the markets and will have ramifications for the UK’s economy.
Theresa May’s appointment this summer, without any competition, also ensured that she did not have to provide a plan of her own regarding what Brexit would look it. Beyond the ridiculous statement that ‘Brexit means Brexit,’ she has displayed a dangerous lack of vision for the country’s future that is resulting in complete chaos. As a result, the UK is left with an unelected Prime Minister who lacks any form of mandate to dictate the term of the UK’s exit.
Astonishingly, one of the only things that does appear apparent is that the Government are working to achieve a Hard Brexit. I cannot overstate the disastrous impact a Hard Brexit would have on British people’s lives and the UK’s place in the world.
The clearest example of the dissatisfaction at the Government’s Hard Brexit approach was seen with the resignation of Tory MP Stephen Phillips. After declaring his criticism for May’s handling of the Brexit process, he damningly stated: ‘I can no longer live with being labelled a Tory.’
Will it take a cascade of further resignations for May to realise just how out of step she is with public opinion? If so, bring them on. The Whitney by-election sent a strong message to Number 10 that they cannot ignore the public and the upcoming Richmond Park by-election will provide another opportunity to let the Prime Minister know that she cannot get away with her anti-Europe, Hard Brexit rhetoric.
The Government have attempted to appease their sceptical backbenchers through deals such as the recent Nissan agreement that was reached this month. However, this ad-hoc approach to business agreements is completely unworkable as a long-term strategy and could result in big business holding the Government to ransom in order to save hard working people’s jobs. It does not provide any further insight into what the Government believes Brexit will look like.
It has also become increasingly clear that Britain’s membership of the single market is on the line, despite promises from the Leave side during the campaign that we could maintain this membership. The single market is vital to Britain’s economic interests and the Government simply cannot argue that more than 17million people voted to leave a market that is so vital for Britain’s economy. That is why Lib Dems will also seek to amend the plans to ensure membership of the single market becomes part of the negotiation strategy.
The great hypocrisy of the Government’s position is that they argue to have a telepathic understanding of why each vote was cast on June 23, while providing absolutely no plan for what this is. Because of this, Article 50 must only proceed if there is agreement for a referendum on the terms of the deal.
What could be more democratic than giving the people a say on where this country moves next? Whether you vote to leave or to remain last June, you deserve to have your voice heard on what happens next. I believe that the people must be sovereign.
Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats