Cable: Shifting centre of gravity signals People’s Vote is option MPs can’t put down

This evening’s Indicative Votes in the House of Commons have shown that significant support has shifted towards giving the people the final say on Brexit.

The confirmatory referendum received more support than Theresa May’s deal and was the most popular option on the order paper.

Commenting, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said: 

“As anticipated, the Commons has not produced an absolutely clear way forward, but it is clearer where the centre of gravity now is.

“What is essential is that whichever Brexit option the government pursues, it is put to the public in a confirmatory referendum. We have led calls for a People’s Vote for nearly three years, and we believe it remains as crucial this evening as at any time since 2016.

“The Leave campaign made promises which are simply undeliverable.  The public must be able to choose between the final Brexit offer – whatever that is – and keeping the deal we already have as full members of the European Union.”


* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • David Becket 27th Mar '19 - 10:26pm

    Do not be too pleased with yourself Mr Cable. If our 11 MPs had voted for a customs union, the least worse option, that would have scraped a majority. With the threat of No Deal very real this is the time for compromise and the time for MPs to rescue the country from disaster. Yes I would prefer a peoples vote or revoking Article 50, but lets face it we are unlikely to get either.

  • 8 Tories voted for a second referendum. 6 were already for a people’s vote. And 27 Labour MPs voted against.

    Lobby your Tory and Labour MPs if they voted against!

    A list of Labour MPs who voted against or abstained at

    It is quite difficult to see how it gets above the needed 310 but that can be said for all the options!!!

    It looks as if we are heading towards European Parliamentary Elections, folks! And that will be a proxy referendum and the context for that will set by the local elections!

  • @David Beckett

    AIUI it doesn’t matter at THIS stage whether something gets a majority or not – just the most popular go through to stage 2 on Monday.

  • A referendum has been rejected yet again. Endless flogging of a dead horse. What does a “confirmatory referendum” even mean? Once all the permutations (remain on ballot paper? No deal on ballot paper? May’s deal on paper? How many options? Majority required or simply plurality?) are factored in, you’ll find even less of a consensus position.

    No deal is the way forward from where we are, with the pay off being short/mid term pain with the potential to radically refocus the economy over the long term away from the current model which is failing the majority of people. Parliament and the hard remainists cannot accept it and are desperate to retain that same failing model.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Mar '19 - 11:32pm

    However I watched more TV today than I usually do (I wonder why?) But where or where were the Liberal Democrats? Hiding away? Or just not seen as relevant? Where is our media operation?

  • Two points
    1. Brexiteers and Lexiteers no longer proclaim sunlit uplands, it is short to medium term pain with the possibility of unicorns and faries in the longterm. Let me think, err no thanks.
    2. Sacrifice the party for the good of the country and to pull the Tories (and Labour this time) out of the mess they created. Let me think, err no thanks, tried that before you just end up with an entitled Tory party causing greater havoc. Their mess, let them clean it up.

  • Tony Greaves “This is no time for compromise” – Sorry, can’t we leave that disastrous approach to the mad Brexiteers, please pretty please?

    Let’s argue that (1) our least worst Brexit option is a customs union, (2) that option should also be put to a “confirmatory referendum” against Remain. What’s not to like about that compromise?

    (NB, if we just opt for a customs union, then the EU will demand we first sign up to their Withdrawal Agreement and still get the hell out by April 12th, leaving the CU to be negotiated as part of the “political declaration”. That carries huge risks that if / when the PM / the Government falls, its successor could welsh on that decision. So one advantage of the “confirmatory referendum” is that the EU will give us a long extension to get it all organised, and we can make sure that we use the time to nail down precisely what the preferred Brexit option is.)

  • @’Lord’ Greaves 11.31pm

    Thanks for the comment – good to see such a high quality of reasoning from our unelected parliamentarians. I won’t quite be so rude as to describe your second comment as “rubbish”, but Layla Moran was all over the news channels. I completely disagree with her on the issue of Europe, but the one thing I cannot accuse her of is “hiding away”.

  • Arnold Kiel 28th Mar '19 - 3:48am

    My chaos-theory in this chaos is: the more the better. Today was therefore a good day. Only after a total meltdown of parliamentary and governmental control will MPs realise that they ended up in a no-win situation, and conclude they can either pull the emergency brake (revoke) or hand this issue back to the people. It does not matter anymore which dismal leave-option they put on the ballot.

  • There are calls (I’m sure well intentioned) to rush in and save the Tories/Brexiteers/Lexiteers from reality. “Step forward take the odium of making the difficult decsion” is the cry, well that would be the wrong decsion. Why you ask because they would say, “We could have had a splendid Brexit but because those dammed LidDems and traitorous Tories and Labour stabbing us in the back, we haven’t”. “During the next stage we must a true believer to undo the damage” will be their squeak. So no they need to face reality and own the decsion, no wriggle room can be given them, no excuse for their failure, because if we give them that they will make the next phase even worse. If their are no consequences for them why would they change, and if they don’t change things will only get worse ( impossible you say, well I really don’t think you understand their delusion, if you think that). We cannot be the responsible adults that keep cleaning up after them, because if you do they will continue to make even more messes, because someone will always rush forward to clean up and provide a scape goat, or perhaps in this case a scape unicorn. In conclusion the Tory’s running this show are “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” do not make the mistake of helping them out, let them implode.

  • Andrew McCaig 28th Mar '19 - 6:42am

    Staying in the or “a” Customs Union is a pretty rubbish form of Brexit concocted by the Labour Party so they can sit on the fence. Without also being in the Single Market you lose all the economic benefits, without being able to negotiate trade deals, and you lose freedom of movement, which is one of the great benefits of membership. And you still need an Irish backstop because frictionless trade also requires full regulatory alignment. (in other words sort of being in the Single Market until some future government decides to sacrifice peace in Northern Ireland). It is no different from Theresa’s deal in reality, so I don’t know why anyone would expect us to support it yesterday.
    We (or at least Layla, who was indeed on the BBC feed yesterday) confirmed that we will support ANY deal that is attached to a referendum, and we should stick to that.

  • The calls to “Sacrifice the party for the good of the country” would be in reality be “Sacrifice the party for the good of the Tories”. Tried that under Clegg, you end up with the swivel eyed loons running the Tory party and that doesn’t end well now does it.

  • Andrew McCaig 28th Mar '19 - 6:53am

    I think you should at your post again!
    I have seen many arguments advanced for no deal before, but I have never before seen it justified on the basis that it is far less popular with MPs than a People’s Vote!

  • I think a referendum could get through but it needs to put no deal, Mays deal with a customs union and remain on the ballot and use preferential voting to get to an outcome.

    The ERG and co may well accept that option now and I think increasingly the rest of the house could vote it through.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Mar '19 - 8:11am

    “Populists to the right of us, populists to the left of us!”

    I fear … have long feared … that a referendum throws yet more petrol on the fire of populism. We rightly didn’t like to effect the 2016 referendum had on British society, so … let’s have another one???

    The Eurozone economies are grinding to a halt under the weight of obsessive disinflationary monetary policy.

    The EU has a puny vehicle for the fiscal transfers that are essential for the balancing of wealth and opportunity across the ‘Union’ feeding societies built on low wages, low productivity, low capital formation – rough terrain for community and liberty.

    We continue to make exactly the same mistakes as countries did in the 1930s.

    We continue to see the same results as were seen in the 1930s.

  • John Marriott 28th Mar '19 - 8:33am

    It’s a pity that the MPs weren’t asked to number the options in order of preference. We could then have had a bit of STV so that a clear favourite might have emerged. Anyway, they may have a second bite of the cherry next week, unless the Speaker allows the May Deal back on Friday. If that does happen and it scrapes through it could then be all to play for when the serious horse trading starts after we ‘leave’ the EU. Mind you, WHO will be doing the negotiating if May keeps her promise? If Parliament is to have a say then it’s firstly up to it to coalesce around an option and then insist that this plays a major part in the upcoming negotiations.

    By the way, I too share the views of several LDV contributors about Lord Tony Greaves. It’s his kind of ‘take it or leave’ no conpromise confrontational attitude that has got us as a nation and the Lib Dems as a party where we are today.

  • Both Beckett’s second referendum and Clarke’s custom’s union had more votes in favour than May’s Withdrawal Agreement managed at the last time of asking, and yet she continues to flog that dead horse.

    The only sign of compromise from May is the offer of her resignation.

  • I disagree profoundly with Lord Greaves.

    Had the custom’s union been passed, Theresa May, and the right wingers, would have been the left with the quandary of explaining why the verdict and the ‘sovereignty of parliament’ (their sacred talisman in the run up to the referendum) was unacceptable.

    I believe her ONLY option, as her refusal to accept the custom’s union is a given, would have been to put everything back to the people.

    Not for the first time the leadership of this party has shot themselves, and the country, in the foot (and various other ‘unmentionable’ places).

  • Exactly as I said yesterday before the votes, the risk was that its Tory opponents would seize on all options being defeated to try and rubbish the exercise and return the initiative to government. We would have been better to have supported all the solutions that were better than May’s deal – the approach taken by Ken Clarke. The time for narrowing to a preference is Monday, not yesterday. A misjudgement by our parliamentary team, as others have said.

    Now it hangs in the balance and a majority supported consensus is needed on Monday, or the Letwin process collapses. Hopefully our MPs will do their bit to bring this about and won’t simply sit on their first preference hoping others will do the hard work.

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '19 - 9:22am

    @ Bill le Breton,

    “The Eurozone economies are grinding to a halt under the weight of obsessive disinflationary monetary policy. The EU has a puny vehicle for the fiscal transfers that are essential…….”

    I’ve been ‘banging on’ about this issue for some time so it’s good to read I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

    Often, whenever you mention the problems of the eurozone, you’ll have someone pop saying “ah but we don’t use the euro and never will etc ” As if the problems of the trading bloc we are locked into somehow are confined to EZ borders.

    If it were all properly run, I’d be a Remainer too! But it isn’t and that’s why Leave is, IMO, the better option. Or maybe the less worse of two bad options.

  • @Tony Greaves

    I take a little exception to my comment being called rubbish when it was factual and accurate. And it does seem difficult as of this moment to see how this will sort itself out – certainly in the short term and that may be the situation – that it will take some time to sort out!

    OK may the comment was semi-rubbish! As the most important thing is to campaign our hearts out as electoral pressure rather than waste time lobbying MPs – us defeating councillors and candidates – Labour and Tory is the only thing that they will understand and it could be an important turning point for our party.

    @Bill le Breton

    “I fear … have long feared … that a referendum throws yet more petrol on the fire of populism”

    Firstly we shouldn’t – as democrats – hide away from people. We have – unfortunately – made that mistake before. Democracy – elections, referendums, community politics, political activism is the ONLY thing that saves us.

    I disagree with your analysis that we are making the same mistake as the 1930s. There is a little global turbulence but compared to the 30s we recovered quickly from the financial crash with national governments reflating. Overall IMHO the period of the EU has been one of great economic prosperity and European stability – that may or may not be coincidence.

    I think if we have a soft Brexit option that should be put to a referendum. And we may JUST be heading towards a referendum with several options as a compromise – May’s Deal, Customs Union, Norway, Remain. The Tories fear a referendum – that it will be seen as betrayal by hard brexiteers/UKIPers – I think they are wrong in that analysis. Not having a referendum is now a far bigger risk for them.

  • I still expect the May deal to get through one way or another, bit like Lincoln’s emancipation measure, offers here , jobs there etc etc.
    The Referendum proposal last night appears to show 24 Labour MPs against and 17 abstained. I would think quite a few of those could be changed over the weekend, abstainers to vote for and some of those against to abstain, they can say they were doing the honourable thing trying to find a way forward to find a solution. There are also a a number of Conservative abstentions, there may be a small number of possible votes there.
    However how would Ministers vote, against presumably, so it would still fall.
    Listening to the ERG Vice Chair this morning he still seems determined to voted against the “Deal”.
    Perhaps Monday will sort it out, perhaps not.
    But Yes why did we not support the Customs Union arrangement of Ken Clarke. We should on Monday and that could be added to the Withdraw agreement. I could live with that, it was the Common Market and the Cujstoms Union that was a main policy instigator in me joining the Liberal Party in the early 60’s

  • Richard Underhill 28th Mar '19 - 9:42am

    Tony Greaves 27th Mar ’19 – 11:32pmOpposition Spokesman
    I turned on the Parliament Channel on 26/3/2019. The red benches were almost empty, except for one succinct Lib Dem and one verbose ‘Official Opposition Spokesman’ (Labour?)
    A Statutory Instrument should have been decided by the previous Brexit Day. I do not know what it achieves because the Official Spokesman was very repetitious about the timing.
    I did not see a representative ofÆthelred_the_Unready.

  • William Fowler 28th Mar '19 - 9:45am

    If there is a confirmatory referendum it will mean Mrs May staying on for six to twelve months to see her deal through.

    Extension for twelve to 21 months but no-one is ready for MEP elections – LibDems don’t have a new, dynamic leader, TIG don’t yet exist as a political party, Labour are not a remain party and even the Conservatives can’t get a new leader in place if Mrs May steps down. Who do all the Remainers vote for to stop the Brexit Party taking all the seats?

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '19 - 10:08am

    @ Michael1

    “Overall IMHO the period of the EU has been one of great economic prosperity and European stability – that may or may not be coincidence.”

    The first part of it, up until the 2008 GFC, seemed to be going well enough at the time. The EU had created a fairly rigid model with a set of rules which supposed that there was no need to set any limits at all on the extent of private borrowing but there was a need to set strict limits on public borrowing. It only worked to create an expansionary economy for as long as did the private sector did the borrowing. When the borrowing stopped the economy slumped.

    This is about as badly wayward neoliberal type policy as it is possible to devise. It’s written into the EU treaties and pacts. There’s little or no flexibility. Unfortunately the PTB don’t want to admit their mistake so EU countries are stuck with it.

  • Denis Loretto 28th Mar '19 - 10:17am

    In the last couple of days I posted on LDV appealing to our parliamentary party to recognise the need to vote for all the least worst options in order to demean support for the worst options. Little did I realise that if they had done so Ken Clarke’s customs union motion would actually have squeaked through. I think our MPs made a major error last night. Think of the difference there would be in the reporting this morning. The Guardian could not use its 8 NOs headline. One motion would have got through – and the big majority against “no deal” would have been even more telling. Of course there would be no question of this meaning that a customs union alone would be regarded as the answer to anything – it was only an indicative vote – but stage 2 on Monday would have seemed more relevant, especially with the welcome narrow margin by which “confirmatory people’s vote” was defeated.
    We must accept that if our preferred outcome of reversing brexit becomes unachievable an outcome which keeps us as close as possible to Europe will be enormously better than some sort of “ourselves alone” approach.

  • Andrew McCaig “Staying in the or “a” Customs Union is a pretty rubbish form of Brexit…”

    I agree with a lot of what you say about that, but, let’s be honest about the Backstop.

    The EU need to impose the Backstop (or else something that does the same thing but can be claimed to be a later agreement!), and hence to secure our indefinite membership of a customs union plus quite a lot of regulatory alignment. They cannot avoid doing that, because they cannot otherwise legally maintain a soft Irish border, or for that matter allow frictionless trade at Dover – Calais. Hence, the only thing Ken Clarke’s CU proposal does, compared to May’s deal, is own up honestly to what its consequences are.

    This matters, because of the shenanigans Boris and others are playing. They want to pass May’s deal, get out of EU, then take over the country and rat on what has been agreed with the EU. If May’s Deal goes onto the referendum ballot paper, Boris and Gove will say that they have the alchemy to turn it into a real hard Brexit. Stage is then set for yet another Leave victory based on brand new lies.

    If however the ballot is betwen Remain and CU, the sting is taken out of it. Leavers will have to face up to what is actually achievable in the way of Leaving. And if perchance the nation did still vote for CU rather than Remain, Boris won’t be able to lie that “the people really voted for a hard Brexit”.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Mar '19 - 10:43am

    Nick Baird 28th Mar ’19 – 8:35am
    ” .. she continues to flog that dead horse. The only sign of compromise from May is the offer of her resignation.”
    Despite her famous determination she may have simply had enough.
    The timing is relevant. Her meeting with the Tories’ 1922 Committee was BEFORE the Commons voted on the day’s business, which did not include MV3.
    She is not Machiavelli, whatever her advisers think about themselves.ò_Machiavelli
    We were warned. A Lib Dem Minister resigned for the Home Office and would only say diplomatically that “She knows her own mind”. Understatement.
    Another Lib Dem MP was appointed. She delayed a Cabinet meeting by complaining to the then PM that he had agreed to the appointment. The PM stood firm. The new Minister negotiated a job as Minister for Crime Prevention, which was not being done. He had some success, including persuading the PM that FGM is torture, in line with previous announcements of policy by previous Conservative Ministers in both houses.
    If ever the determination of the then Home Secretary was needed it was over police budgets, but she caved. She organised a meeting of the entire Home Office staff. I was in the audience. She said that she did not know HOW to do this. The UK has since had a large increase in knife crime, which might have been foreseen and might have been prevented. History may be unkind to her.

  • @Peter Martin

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of government borrowing, I understand that only 3 countries have consistently fulfilled the EU rules on government borrowing (that apply only to Eurozone countries) – Luxembourg, Finland and Estonia and many year after year!

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '19 - 8:08pm

    @ Michael1,

    5.84%, 0.61%, 3.19%,

    These are the latest trade surpluses as % of GDPof the three countries you’ve mentioned. And guess which one is doing the worst in terms of unemployment levels and growth?

    So providing EZ countries can run a surplus of at least 3% of GDP they can probably survive reasonably well.

    But as I always keep asking: How is it possible for everyone to run a surplus?

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '19 - 8:21pm

    “Staying in the or “a” Customs Union is a pretty rubbish form of Brexit…”

    Not necessarily. It was the Remainers during the referendum who said leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. Not the Leavers.

    There’s a good argument to be made for staying in the CU for a period of 5 years or so. At the end of that time we have, though, to be free to leave if we wish. Providing of course we provide an agreed notification of our intentions. Maybe a one year notice period. We can’t accept an arrangement which could trap us indefinitely.

  • Arnold Kiel 29th Mar '19 - 7:23am

    “Staying in the or “a” Customs Union is a pretty rubbish form of REMAIN. It naturally implies Single-Market alignment (including ECJ oversight) to truly achieve frictionless trade. So no gain in “sovereignty” while losing all influence. True Brexiters will vigorously attack this from day one.

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