Wera Hobhouse MP: Only the people can finish what the people have started

This is the speech delivered by Bath MP Wera Hobhouse in favour of a referendum on the final Brexit deal during the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill on Wednesday.

I rise to speak to amendment 120. Since I arrived in this place in June and started taking part in the Brexit debate, one thing has intrigued me: have the Prime Minister and many other remain MPs changed their minds? We all know that the Prime Minister supported remaining in June 2016. Has she changed her mind since? This is important because she and her Government use one big argument for pressing on with Brexit: it is the will of the people. Is it? For the Government and the hard Brexiteers, the referendum result is fixed forever. The people cannot change their minds. The Prime Minister and other MPs can change their minds, but the people cannot.​

As the months go by and the Government’s legitimacy for implementing their version of Brexit becomes less and less legitimate, obeying the will of the people becomes the last remaining legitimacy, but nobody bothers to find out what the will of the people is now. Indeed, the last to be asked are the people themselves. Hon. Members are right to say that Britain is a parliamentary democracy, but now we have had a referendum, there is no obvious mechanism for updating, confirming or reviewing the referendum result. The 2017 general election provided no mandate for overturning the referendum result. It is obvious that 650 MPs cannot update, confirm or review the decision taken by 33 million people, but the people themselves can, and the people themselves should be allowed to change their minds, in either direction.

There are people now who voted remain who feel that the decision has been taken and the Government should get on with it. There are others who voted leave who fear that they will be let down by politicians who have used them for their own ends. The will of the people is a mixed bag. The Government are legislating for a Brexit in the name of the people. Their problem is that they might find themselves pressing ahead without the people’s consent. Last week, Parliament voted to give itself a vote on the deal. This was a welcome step forward, but what started with the people must end with the people. The people must sign off or reject the deal. Only the people can finish what the people have started.

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Climate Emergency, Energy and the Environment, and is running for leadership of the party

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  • It is a good speech by Wera and the argument that “the people themselves should be allowed to change their minds” has a good grounding in natural justice as argued in this article https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/13/a-second-brexit-referendum-the-argument-of-autonomy/

    The amendment, however, has been overwhelmingly deafeated with the Labour Party and the SNP largely abstaining. Without cross-party support, there appears little prospect of forcing the holding of a referendum (with an option to remain) before March 2019. As a consequence, if a referendun can be achieved, it may become a binary choice between a permanent Norway type arrangement with the EU or an exit from the transitional period on WTO trading terms i.e. with no option to remain.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Dec '17 - 9:53pm

    We can all change our minds. Including the EU PTB too.

    So what if they say the UK can stay in the EU after all but only if we agree to Schengen and the adoption of the euro?

    Would Lib Dems still want to campaign to remain?

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Dec '17 - 10:31pm

    There is a problem here though – All a further referendum does is probably lead straight to another. Indeed the 2015 Conservative Manifesto gave a clear commitment to honour the result of the EU referendum. At best this is a neverendum – at worst this is getting rather close to asking people to vote until they get it right.

    JoeB puts it well I think. The further referendums that were held in Denmark and Ireland were (just about) legit on the basis that they put something qualitatively different to the vote. All I see in the UK case is a wish to have a rerun. Put a Norway option in front of me and I’ll vote for it.

  • Peter,
    I know Brexit is going badly for you brave Brexiteers but really, when you are left with the only option of deflection by shouting squirrel or in your case Schengen squirrel you really are down to the bottom of the barrel.

    Again I tell you “You don’t get the Brexit you WANT you get the Brexit YOU are GIVEN”. I know it’s difficult to accept you won’t get what you want but you never could do, so accept what you voted for or accept you didn’t vote for what you will get. Don’t keep going on about Norway it’s not on offer and never was.

  • The fantasists on here are the ones that keep hoping Brexit will go away and that the tide is about to turn, despite the defeats at the ballot box and in parliament.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Dec '17 - 10:32am

    My passport has expired. Nigel Farage MEP is wrong. It was a British passport in a common format for machine readability as negotiated by Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington while Margaret Thatcher was PM. Freedom of movement has meant that there are no stamps in it. It was inspected once by UK Immigration Officers while I was in transit within the UK. They said it was a “random” check. Ho Ho.

  • Glen,

    I’m not the one hoping Brexit will go away, that particular fantasy is much more prevalent amongst the Brexiteers. The not much will change merchant’s, the let us talk about anything but Brexit ilk, the Brexit will be easy group, Tinkerbell will sort it and, or the subgroup of Brexiteers I know best “Don’t worry about Brexit it won’t happen”. Now I know you fall into the “Not much will change” grouping, but as we can see everything is changing, so when it comes to fantasy I’m afraid us poor remainders are far behind you in those stakes.

    We know Brexit is likely to happen, but for the sake of our families and sanity we are trying to prevent that cliff jump. You alas seem wedded to the jump into the dark while chanting “Not much will change” probably aided and abetted by the Tinkerbell windband playing “We believe we can fly”.

  • Brexiteers don’t give a toss about those of us who will have our families torn apart by a coercive British state if Brexit actually happens. Let alone all those who will lose their jobs, homes and standards of living. The LD party is far too fey and wimpy when it comes to anti-Brexit, and my patience is wearing very thin.

  • Frankie
    Two NNs in G-L-E-N-N it’s there on every post.
    Tinkerbell , blah, blah, blah. I don’t think everything is changing drastically. But I’m very pleased that at long last Britian’s delusional “internationalist” political class is being hauled of the world stage.
    What we’ve had is moderate inflation (well bellow the levels caused by joining the common market in the early 70s and well behind what it was in 93 when we were signed up to the EU ).

  • Chris Burden 23rd Dec '17 - 12:11pm

    Little Jackie Paper 22nd Dec ’17 – 10:31pm: ” At best this is a neverendum – at worst this is getting rather close to asking people to vote until they get it right. ”
    No, it bl**dy isn’t! A new referendum would be to ask at the point when the deal is clear, if people want it. That’s it.
    It would include an option ‘Yes’, in which case we leave the EU on those terms, but it should also include the option ‘No. We wish to Remain in the EU.’

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '17 - 12:36pm

    Red Liberal

    Realise everything requires balance and compromise, keep to the knowledge you are supporting the view you have, aware that needs to be in alliance with those whose values are the same but whose views can differ.

  • The bill for a final deal referendum was comprehensively defeated so the chances of it going through again are very small.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Dec '17 - 1:27pm

    In any event, only parliament can finish what parliament started. The only body with the legal power to decide about BREXIT is the parliament elected in 2017, as only MPs have the power – in conjunction with the HoL and the monarch – to make or unmake laws. No amount of referendums will change that.
    Also, no-one is arguing for a second referendum. We’ve already had two by the way. The party’s position – with which I profoundly disagree – is for a referendum on the outcome of the negotiations to decide whether the advice of the people to parliament is to accept the deal or stay in the EU.
    My position is as stated in paragraph one. MPs should stop acting like frightened rabbits, and do the job they were elected to do, namely exercising their judgement on what is best for our country.

  • @Glenn

    I am not so confident about.

    I was disappointed that Labour abstained on the vote on mass. That suggests to me that they did so so they can support it at a later date if another amendment is tabled and the timing suits them and they cant be charged with hypocrisy .
    I am very disappointed with Labour on that issue if I am honest.

  • Arnold Kiel 23rd Dec '17 - 1:36pm

    Am I the only one who finds Labour’s abstention remarkable? They are opening a window for themselves. It could be used in conjunction with the “meaningful vote”, provided the Tory rebels stand. By that time, soft Brexit options will be manifestly unavailable. A majority of leavers at any cost would be required to confirm June 2016. It never existed.

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Dec '17 - 2:18pm

    @Mick Taylor: “MPs should stop acting like frightened rabbits, and do the job they were elected to do, namely exercising their judgement on what is best for our country.”

    So true – but where is the evidence of such behaviour in recent years in particular? Gina Miller should NEVER have been left to pursue her legal action. The big question of the decade: “where should parliament relocate while the palace of Westminster is propped up” might reasonable be answered ‘Spitzbergen or South Georgia – as what does it really matter?” But then I see Wera Hobhouse and Layla Moran and I think. . . OK, maybe there is still some hope? Try to have a Happy Christmas, people.

  • Laurence Cox 23rd Dec '17 - 2:23pm

    @Matt @Arnold Kiel
    I am more concerned about the SNP abstentions. I expected Labour to be cynical and not support any amendment proposed by another party, but the SNP abstentions signify that they want Brexit to go through to strengthen their hand in calling another independence referendum even though they have no interest in rejoining the EU.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Dec '17 - 2:48pm

    I hope David Cameron knew what he was doing when he called the referendum last June. Only the people can alter what the people decide and the people can change their mind. Perhaps eventually we will erect a statue to him for invigorating our democracy.

  • @Peter Hirst

    Forgive me if I am mistakes, but didn’t Liberal Democrats vote to hold the referendum in the first place.

    Is there a difference between voting and legislating to hold the referendum then actually calling for it once the legalities have been set to hold one. I am intrigued and would appreciate if you could explain it to me

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Dec '17 - 4:20pm

    Arnold Kiel – ‘Am I the only one who finds Labour’s abstention remarkable?’

    Probably you are, yes.

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Dec '17 - 4:26pm

    Peter Hirst – ‘I hope David Cameron knew what he was doing when he called the referendum last June.’

    The Conservative Party 2015 manifesto p72-73 contained a specific commitment to an in-out referendum and to honour the result. So I’d assume he did. My guess (and until the biography comes out that’s all it is) is he simply didn’t understand the scale and true nature of the problems in UK society. He might not have been alone in that.

    ‘Perhaps eventually we will erect a statue to him for invigorating our democracy.’

    Despite it all there is something to be said for holding a referendum on the question.

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Dec '17 - 4:30pm

    Chris Burden – ‘A new referendum would be to ask at the point when the deal is clear, if people want it. That’s it.’

    Be honest here. Suppose the year is 2021. The 2016 referendum had produced a 52:48 REMAIN majority. The EU has come up with another load of duff ideas and there is a clear and consistent set of polls showing a LEAVE majority. A refreshed UKIP is calling for a referendum to confirm the 2016 result and to make sure that the people do want the REMAIN we’ve got by 2021.

    Would you be so keen on a confirmation referendum in those circumstances?

  • Jackie,

    Let’s trot out a squirrel.

    Wot if in 2021 the EU vote to suggest the first born child is sacrificed on the alter of the Imperial EU would you vote for leave. But Jackie that isn’t at all likely, but, but but they may vote to make us all wear squirrel suits and vote to ban the wearing of Tinkerbell costumes. I fear you have descended to the level of several other of our Brexiteer commentators when faced with reality you have reverted to whataboutery and look their is a squirrel; tis sad but true.

    At the end of the day none of the brave Brexiteers have a plan, at best they believe in “It will be alright on the night” or just chant “We believe we can fly” or in some sad cases just sit there pleading with people to “Like them and come along with the journey” while wondering why people tend to reject their opinions.

  • The most worry thing about the brave Brexiteers is to be frank the pugnacity of their reasoning. I may joke about some of their plans, but the sad thing is they have no plan. Even believing Tinkerbell waving her magic wand to fix things has more reality than what they want, at the end Brexit may well occur and the UK will muddle through, but what no one will be able to say is it went to plan because there isn’t one.

  • Christopher Haigh 23rd Dec '17 - 6:18pm

    I think I would rather concentrate on making the best relationship for the EU and the UK post brexit , than suffer another horrendous referendum.

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Dec '17 - 6:45pm

    Andy Daer –

    ‘your imaginary case has us staying in for now, and the then EU doing something daft in 2021.’

    No – my post was about a second ‘referendum on the facts’ had REMAIN had won in 2016. I note you didn’t actually respond to the central question I put forward – be honest – if REMAIN had won would you have been keen on a further ‘confirmation referendum on the facts’ at some stage.

    ‘It’s an odd way to support your argument, if I may say so, although a surprising number of leave voters have told me they want out because of what they think the EU might do in the future.’

    Not at all odd. If in the year 2000 I had told you that by 2017 the EU would be about hyper-austerity economics, the migrant/refugee debacle, a hopelessly botched enlargement and corporatist trade agreements what would you have said? The EU’s whacking great constitutional deficit was always one of the stronger arguments against it.

    You might, of course, want to argue for the devil you know. That’s quite reasonable enough. But there’s nothing odd about looking to the future with some scepticism, particularly given that we’ve just had a decade of utterly lamentable EU crisis management.

    When I travel to Eastern Europe I certainly pick up an unease about the direction the EU is taking that wasn’t there even a few years ago. This is far from UK-only.

    What to do about all this is another matter. For the short-term at least I have long thought that the Norway option is the best and only way forward.

  • The thing about Labour is that a number of their seats have a lot of leave voters, so quite sensibly they ‘re acknowledging it. It’s political reality v the fantasy that they must turn up at the last minute to rescue the EU dream for true believers.
    The other point to make is that whilst it would be possible to stop Brexit by an act of parliament, it would equally be possible to elect a government to proceed with it as a manifesto pledge at any point in the future. It’s permeated the fibres of the nation.

  • Jackie,
    Tis sad to see the only Brexiteer I actually thought had a bit of intellectual rigor fall to the level of the rest. You’ve fallen to the level of whatifery, EU bad and squirrel, a level long the domain of many of your fellows. I thought you’d hold out a bit longer but it looks like the facts have finally got you, tis sad.

  • Wherever they end up Labour will have changed their EU policy by June next year. The local elections will be behind them and they will have done some serious calculations as to precisely how much net loss of support seat by seat opposing withdrawal would cost them.

  • Richard O'Neill 24th Dec '17 - 12:00am

    The second Referendum demand was always a bit of an overeach. It opens itself to the obvious charge that Remainers would not call for it had the referendum gone differently in 2016. Until a significant number of former leave voters/leaders are prepared to endorse it there is no chance of a national consensus. Voting twice on the same issue has become a cliche in EU referenda. At the very least we need to establish what terms we would be staying in on (are the EU powers going to demand Schengen and the Euro as the price of a national climedown). Will we have lengthy legal cases on this?

    As a soft remainer, I’m not sure it was wise to take it to a vote in the Commons without being sure of support from other parties. The result was just a landslide against. If we are going to stay in the EU it will require a fresh offer, endorsed by the EU27, that can win overwhelming Popular support.

    Merry Christmas

  • The Economist references a couple of recent Brexit reports from two influential think tanks – the Institute for Government(IFG) https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/trade-after-brexit ;and the Institute for Public Policy Research https://www.ippr.org/
    Both support close regulatory alignment, and add that any divergence that may be possible can come only at the price of reduced access to the single market. But even so they offer some hope of a middle way arrangement between the substantial benefits of Norway with the lighter obligations of Canada . The IFG paper talks of a “regulatory partnership model”; the IPPR proposes a new “shared market”.

  • William Fowler 24th Dec '17 - 10:05am

    Here we have a huge flaw in democracy (and in US), when a country is more or less split in half when the parliament is elected, rather than forcing the parties to only implement laws in areas in which they agree you end up with one extreme or the other which probably only represents a quarter of the electorate.

    Labour is playing a clever waiting game, hoping the govn will implode over Brexit, and then come to the rescue.

    Only going to get another referendum if EU comes up with some tougher restraints on freedom of movement than will placate the poor in the UK, who are enraged by having their social housing, schooling etc taken over by foreigners (and these poor are beginning to turn on Corbyn) so that the game changes.

  • William fowler,
    Can we get away from this idea that people on low incomes are uniquely opposed to high levels of immigration. The reality is that it’s over 70% of the electorate and over 50% of remain voters. Virtually every survey of public attitudes for thirty or more years has shown this. The truth is that mass immigration as gone on despite the general public not wanting it mostly because it gets buried behind policies they do want and against ones they don’t. It’s true that it is not always a top concern, but there has never been a point where it was a popular policy outside of minority of idealists who think they’ve changed the world when really they’ve just changed their underpants. It’s also far from unique to Britain.

  • Another referendum (or any future referendums) won’t be satisfactory if they are allowed to be run in the same divisive, informing falsely, repetitive sound-bite style. Where there is a binary choice between two half the revenue each side generate should go to the independent fact-checking third side. The BBC, even now, are hesitant to challenge the blue passport claims which is allowing £500 million’ish to be spent on something we could have done anyway.

    Even then it was the lack of investment into areas outside of London that was one of the main causes of Brexit (investing in England’s second biggest city is hardly the answer) so a louder voice for factual information may not help fully. We have seen the report that the areas who voted brexit are most likely to be hit strongest by any negative effect so the lib Dems response to that referendum must go wider than campaigning for a chance to change minds once facts have been revealed.

  • Let’s be honest, the reason the Brexiteers don’t want a people’s vote on the deal is that they know that if they do when all the facts are on the table that they will lose that vote decisively. The important things in that vote are that people have 3 choices; accept the deal, walk away on WTO terms or remain, and the transferable vote system is used. Also that all Expats (who were essentially disenfranchised last time) get the vote in their local embassies so we can be certain that their vote is received and counted- there were many lost / late ballots in the first referendum. The people will have the final say!

  • “The BBC, even now, are hesitant to challenge the blue passport claims which is allowing £500 million’ish to be spent on something we could have done anyway.”

    I think you’ll find that has already been filed under the heading of ‘fake news’?

    The 10 year contract for passport printing [of whatever colour], from 2009 to 2019 cost us £390 million. The new contract from Oct 2019, with inflation added comes to about £490 million. It would be £490 million, whether the colour ‘remained’ [pun intended!], maroon, or if it was blue, or even rainbow striped with added glitter.

    O.K., maybe glitter would come under ‘extras’.

  • martin
    Another seer and mind reader.

  • Maritin’
    Sorry about that, misread your post.
    The thing is a second referendum is not being blocked by leave voters or brexiteers. It’s being blocked by parliament, who we are regularly informed by sections of the remain camp are mostly remain supporters and “could/should” defeat Brexit if there was cross party support. Interesting, that isn’t it.

  • Glen I don’t have to be a seer when it comes to you. You are more than forthright in your views immigration is just plain wrong, if protection of the green belt justifies that policy to you fair enough, it doesn’t cut it with me.

  • Frankie,
    There you go again the Seer and Mind reader thing coming to the for.
    I’ve never mentioned the green belt ever at any point. I’ve also never argued that it’s about wages or jobs. I actually think it just isn’t a vote winner or popular and that you have to work with the reality of people. I simply don’t believe in the better angels argument. I think people are tribal and you have to strike a balance within the rules of what is tribally acceptable . To me it’s irrelevant whether or not attitudes are rational, because it make no difference to the existence of those attitudes.

  • Ah so it’s all about the tribe for you, glad you have set me right, here was me thinking you were a bit of a hippy but no your just a tribalist. We have several people who post on our local paper who are very much of the same opinion. How they rant and rail against other tribes coming to our fair town and ruining it for us. All crime is down to that tribe, as are all our other problems; what tribe is this you ask well it’s Scousers, in their mind all problems are caused by Scousers. Now you are right you can’t argue with that mindset, it’s fixed and no amount of facts will change it, but should we accept it or call if what it is small minded xenophobia. They can add nothing to the debate because what ever the problem it’s Scousers; a meteor will hit the earth, tis all the fault of the Scousers.

    Thanks however for putting me right, next time a brave Brexiteer says xenophobia had no part in the vote I’ll ask them to have a word with you and you can point out why you voted leave.

  • No
    I see myself as more of an observer. Tribalism is simply a reality that has to be worked around. As I said earlier you seem to think you’re a seer and a mind reader. Where have I ever ranted against anyone? Dude. I’m part Jewish. part Romany. I don’t see Europe or internationalism as innately progressive.

  • Frankie.
    The thing about tribalism is that everyone to an extent is part of a tribe. When you say brexiteers believe this or that, they’re all old or poor and uneducated or nasty or mean, that they are the enemy. That is a tribal belief based on a tribal value system. When students vote for open boarders and the EU one year and then a few months later vote for a somewhat euro-sceptic leader who offers them free education it’s because tribal self interests trumps ideological concerns. Identity politics is tribalism. Spotting this is an observation, not a judgement.
    The problem for the internationalist view is that politics and social systems are organised nationally. Thus can conflict with the aims and beliefs of a sizable proportion of the electorate. To me, it makes sense to work within the limits of this reality. You can’t have an NHS without some form of nationalism or social housing without borders or free higher education within Universities that have been turned in multi-national business concerns.

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