Tom Brake MP: After Brexit negotiations, give people another chance to have their say

Tom BRake speaking on pavement Two Chairmen pub London 2nd July 2016 #marchforeuropeAfter yesterday’s March for Europe in London, some Liberal Democrats repaired to the Two Chairmen pub in Westminster. As I approached, I became aware of a speech taking place. It was Tom Brake MP (right), on the pavement outside the pub, giving an impromptu view of the EU situation, and answering questions. It was, in many ways, a return to old-fashioned democracy. Certainly Tom gave a fascinating commentary on what might happen next.

Thanks to my colleague Joe Otten, who videoed most of the speech, I have been able to transcribe here much of what Tom said. He started by saying how much he was worried about eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, and how they might react to Brexit. He said that Poland’s people are in favour of the EU, broadly, but that their government might use Brexit as a trigger against the EU.

He went on:

We’ve got to fight. Now there’s no guarantees about what we could achieve. The process is that, at some point in the near future, our Prime Minister, whoever he or she is, has got to write to Europe saying we want to leave. Now I don’t think our Prime Minister can sit on his or her hands for very long. I don’t think it’s fair to expect 27 EU countries, who have just been hit – whose economies have just been hit – and who want certainty, to sit and wait for our Prime Minister, our country having unfortunately taken the decision it’s taken, for our Prime Minister to write that letter.

So we’ve got to take that decision quickly, then we embark on this two year negotiation process where we, as a party, we will be pressing for the fundamental principles of the European Union to be retained: single market, freedom of movement. We don’t know what we’ll be able to achieve, but that is what we will push for, and at the end of that process what I hope will happen is that there will be a strong enough demand from the country as a whole – not political parties – not from the so-called elite, the so-called establishment – the demand from the people that that deal, whatever our government has succeeded in securing (and I don’t think it is going to be very much) that that deal will be able to be put to the public again.

So, the public will be able to say ‘do we think that what the government has achieved is good enough or do we want to go back to the status quo?’

So, I am hoping that this is something that can be revisited. What we’ve got to make sure happens in the next couple of years is that the momentum is maintained, that when these negotiations are under way that the government is put under a lot of pressure, and we build up a head of steam so it becomes unthinkable for the government not to give the people another chance to have their say on what that agreement is – what package our government comes back with.

Inaudible passage due to wind noise

Most of the MPs in parliament were in favour of staying in the EU. I hope that many Conservative MPs won’t use this as an opportunity to jump ship. They were in favour of us staying in – I hope they will remain in favour of us staying in.

In Parliament our government is going to have to negotiate with the members of parliament because we have got to agree – after the Article 50 negotiations – whatever comes out in terms of the changes the government has to make from a legislative point of view.

So, there are a number of backstops that should ensure that, even if we don’t manage to get back into the European Union on exactly the same basis, that we get back into the European Union with as strong and similar position as the one we have now, So that’s the fight that we’ve got ahead over the next couple of years. And I think for us as a party, whereas perhaps a couple of weeks ago we were in a tough environment, for us as a party this (new situation) is not something we would have wanted, (but) it has moved the goal posts for us, and has provided a window for us as a party in terms of the party that was united, solid behind this cause – one which 16 million people supported – I think 16 million people are out there looking for leadership on the issue, and I think that is what we can provide. So let’s go for it and fight really hard for it.

When taking questions, Tom made a few points:

  • Parliament is not involved in the invocation of Article 50. That is the business of the government.
  • He thought it was possible that we will have an October election. Although Theresa May (assuming she leads the Tory party) is saying there won’t be a snap election, she may well call one when she assumes power.
  • When asked by me how Theresa May could call such an early election with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in place, Tom said that if Theresa May committed her MPs to voting (or showing hands) for an early election it would be difficult for opposition MPs to not join in voting for such an election. Otherwise they would effectively be saying: “Tories please stay in power”, which seems implausible.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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8 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jul '16 - 1:32pm

    The Tory Party faces risks of former Tory members asking to rejoin after 23/6/2016.
    1) How will they decide on people who have stood for election for another party?
    2) In an October election would there be an increase in UKIP MPs in England?
    3) Would a UK general election become another independence referendum in Scotland?

  • “Parliament is not involved in the invocation of Article 50. That is the business of the government.”

    This is a matter of legal opinion. Many constitutional law experts – including the Lib Dems’ Lord Lester – have argued that invoking Article 50 would involve overriding the 1972 legislation that took us in to the EU in the first place, and this can only be done by Parliament. Some other lawyers (but not nearly as many as far as I can tell) have argued that this is not the case.

    Clearly there is room for argument here and it’s quite likely that an attempt by the government to invoke Article 50 without Parliament will be subject to a legal challenge; in fact there is already a crowdfunding campaign to ensure such a challenge is made.

    Much as I’d love to see a second referendum with a different result, I’m not sure this is viable. Theresa May has firmly ruled it out. People are talking as if the two-year period enshrined in Article 50 means we can negotiate for two years and then decide at the end of it whether we want to really leave or not. I don’t think it’s like that at all. After two years, we will automatically drop out whether we want to or not, unless all member states agree otherwise – and obviously, those other member states will not be beholden in any way to the result of a second referendum.

  • paul barker 3rd Jul '16 - 1:41pm

    Theres a lot to think about here & I am unsure if Toms assumptions are correct. I have seen comments by supposed “Experts” in The Constitution that invoking Article 50 is a matter for Parliament. Would the rejection of a Brexit deal in another Referendum automatically mean a reversion to full EU membership ? Why would a Pro-Brexit Government offer us those choices ? We could just be faced with The Deal or the end of the two year period & Automatic imposition of Full Tariffs. That is supposed to be what happens if there is no deal at the end of the two years.
    I find it hard to believe that The Tory backbenches would accept the sort of choice Tom is suggesting, why would they ?

  • Sad as it is the UK voted ‘OUT’…As has been said, “If telling lies were reason enough to overturn a vote, no party would have remained in power for more than a few weeks after any General Election “…

    We have voted out…The 52% won; the 48% lost… We just have to make the best of it…

    Any attempt to rewrite history will alienate most of those 52%…. What future for democracy?

  • @Stuart: “This is a matter of legal opinion.”

    It may well be, but the only opinion that counts is that of the European Council (exclusive of UK representation) which is tasked with accepting the UK government’s (or any government’s) notification of its intention to leave. People seem to forget that the EU is not a British institution, but a club of governments which has its own rules which exist external to British law. For this reason, the opinions of British lawyers on the issue are not worth very much. If a government submits a notification of intention to exit to the Council, and the Council says yes (and refuses to inquire into the legitimacy of the government’s action), then no amount of after-the-fact legal expostulation or even lawsuits can change that, the Council not being subject to British law.

    In terms of political if not legal fact, the referendum gives any government intent on leaving the EU all the political authority it needs, without reference to Parliament. That is what it was there for.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul '16 - 4:56pm

    Technically, there is a strong argument for not rushing to sign ‘that letter’. Once we do that the clock starts and the advantage in negotiations resides with the 27.

    Without the ‘letter’, it is more likely that the 27 will be forced to set out a number of ‘inducements’ (preconditions) to encourage the UK to send in the letter.

    For instance, they might come to the conclusion that a deal is better than no deal and that of all the deals the one of offering the UK permission to join the EEA from outside the EU is the best for a qualified majority of the 27. But that deal they would insist would lie on the table for say 31days at which point if the UK had not sent in the letter the deal would be withdrawn. (see Spinning Hugo).

    If EEA unadulterated were on the table I think the Lib Dems should campaign for its acceptance. The Tories might accept, but they might more likely hold out for some’extras’, the +’s, including restrictions on freedom of movement. Ditto Labour.

    The campaign at that point would be on our territory – on Liberal ground. It would, in short be us against the bigots, us against UKIP and the UKIP fellow-travellers.

  • Trefor Hunter 3rd Jul '16 - 6:19pm

    I wonder whether the law should look at the result. I am worried that an apparently democratic decision could be overturned, but was it a legal and fair referendum?
    There are several areas of concern; Did either side overspend during the campaign?
    Did anyone vote twice? ( Postal votes for 2nd home owners). Was printed material racist?
    Outright lies have been challenged in the courts before.
    People were definitely miss-led. The post brexit vote world is already kicking-in, can we do anything about it

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul ’16 – 4:56pm…………..Technically, there is a strong argument for not rushing to sign ‘that letter’. Once we do that the clock starts and the advantage in negotiations resides with the 27………….Without the ‘letter’, it is more likely that the 27 will be forced to set out a number of ‘inducements’ (preconditions) to encourage the UK to send in the letter………..

    Talk about ‘clutching at straws’; in case you’ve forgotten “We voted OUT”…

    Doing nothing is hardly an option..As for ‘forcing the 27 to give the UK inducements’; WHY?
    As things stand THEY have the best of both worlds; the UK pays in, trade stays as is and they don’t have to put up with the UK ‘whinging’ over anything at meetings..

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