A View From Westminster: A Second Referendum?

The summer recess is upon us and not a moment too soon. Conservative MPs have been in turmoil about whether to accept the revised proposal put forward by the Prime Minister in her White Paper. For me, the question boiled down to this: do we go for a complete hostile breakdown leading to economic disruption on both sides and dangerously propel Mr Corbyn to Government or do we counter a more subservient relationship, however imperfect, which we could fine tune later? After deep reflection I am of the view that the second is preferable, mostly to get over the line and to deliver what our democracy demands.

That is not to say that I don’t think mistakes have been made; Article 50 was triggered before putting contingency plans in place, we unwisely agreed to pay the EU an exit fee prior to negotiating a trade relationship. We even conceded the “Irish backstop”, allowing the EU to block Britain’s commercial autonomy. The Eurocrats could almost smell our desperation. Why did we give so much away? My suspicions are that some of the officials overseeing our disengagement never wanted it in the first place.

But we are where we are. Parliament is in deadlock. We don’t even know if the EU will agree to the White Paper. Some, in my own party, and the Lib Dems, whose leader didn’t even bother to turn up for the crucial votes before recess, believe the answer lies is a second referendum. I am dead against this idea. Why? First, timescale; it would require a special Act of Parliament, which itself takes months to pass. A campaign requires further months for both sides to prepare, raise funds and state its case. We would have to ask the EU for a nine-month extension to our leave date, which would require the unanimous agreement of 27 members. The uncertainty for business would be at a premium. Next, even if there were a Remain vote, which polls say is unlikely, what would that mean? The EU is becoming a different construct to the one we are leaving; integrated military structures, a common immigration policy; we would need to renegotiate all over again to get back in. But worse of all, it would shake faith in our democratic process.  It would tell us the state couldn’t honour the wishes of its citizens.

So do we really want to divide families, communities, political parties and the nations of the UK again? Please not. All of us, whatever side we come from, now need to learn the art of compromise. I have. Have you?