I have received a number of messages from constituents asking why I abstained on last night’s vote regarding a confirmatory referendum, so I would like to provide the following explanation.
In 2017 I was elected on a manifesto which gave a commitment to respect the result of the 2016 referendum, to reject “no deal” and to put the national interest first. There was no manifesto commitment to a public vote, a people’s vote, or a second referendum.
At the Labour Party 2018 Conference, delegates agreed on a sequence of actions to achieve a successful resolution on Brexit, including a General Election and, as an absolute last resort, a second referendum.
I don’t agree that we have reached that “last resort” stage. There is still much work to be done on Brexit and with the prospect of an extension to negotiations I supported the motion for indicative votes in order to gauge what aspects of Brexit would get the most parliamentary support and help us to determine what was workable.
I could not support the motion calling for any withdrawal agreement in this Parliament to be approved by a confirmatory public vote. To me, that represents Parliament shirking its responsibility as elected representatives of the people. The scenario set out by this motion is that Parliament agrees a withdrawal arrangement but then puts it to the people for confirmation, with presumably the other option being to remain in the EU.
I believe this to be unsatisfactory for various reasons. One is that we have seen the division in our country which the first referendum has left in its wake, with “leavers” and “remainers” arguing bitterly over a seemingly intractable problem. I remain unconvinced that a second referendum will do anything to resolve this division and I can only see it adding to the anger and fury which is so readily expressed in the UK at the moment.
My second objection is that this motion couples a decision made by Parliament with a confirmatory referendum. I don’t believe that this represents the “last resort” scenario agreed at the Labour Conference. My understanding of the conference resolution is that either Parliament makes a decision, or the decision is put to the public if no agreement can be reached by any other method. This motion does not represent this but instead presents a “belt and braces” approach which I believe to be both unwieldy and unnecessary.
Thirdly, I am not convinced that the confirmatory referendum proposed in this motion will represent a binding and final resolution to the Brexit problem. Whatever the decision, I believe that this second referendum will only serve to reignite the argument.
I want democracy to take its course. People voted to “take back control” and that means the UK Parliament making its own decisions. In a democracy like ours, if the electorate do not like the decisions made by Parliament then they are at liberty to vote us out at the next election and I fully respect and understand this.
I understand that some of my constituents will be disappointed by my decision not to support the idea of a confirmatory public vote but I hope that this helps explain why I decided to abstain on this vote. I do understand that many of my Labour MP colleagues who represent predominantly Remain constituencies find the idea attractive but I know that they also respect the situation of MPs like myself who represent constituencies where the majority voted to leave.
It is still my aim to get a deal which works for the UK which is why I supported Labour’s alternative plan which protects jobs, rights and protections and provides a solution to the Irish Border problem.
Finally, I would like to say that these votes are indicative only, to give an idea of which arrangements would garner the most support, and that these ideas will be developed further in Parliament. They are not, in themselves, a stand alone solution and should not be interpreted as such.