Wera Hobhouse: The road to stopping Brexit

As an MP, do I have to vote for any Brexit that is put in front of me in parliament?

My duty in our representative democracy is to listen to the people and respect their views. It is also to use my own informed judgement of what is the best for my constituents and the country as a whole.

So to the question, my answer is no. If any Brexit brought to parliament is, in my judgement bad for my constituents and my country, I should not vote for it.

The Prime Minister is using a different argument. She says we have to leave the EU even if it bad for the country because the people voted for it. She suggests that the dutiful thing for MPs in light of the 2016 referendum is to vote for something that we believe is bad for this country. On the contrary, we have a duty to do the opposite.

Does this mean we defy the will of the people? No, because British democracy is a representative democracy and not just a direct democracy.

What we MPs cannot do on our own, however, in light of the referendum in 2016, is to choose to stay in the EU. We can legitimately reject any particular Brexit deal in accordance with our judgement but we cannot move from there and cancel Brexit by ourselves. This is the true meaning of the referendum result.

We MPs cannot call off Brexit. Only the people can.

If or when parliament decides that there is no Brexit deal that is good enough, then parliament is in a logjam. At this point, the decision has to go back to the people. The people can tell us that a particular Brexit deal is good enough, even when parliament takes a different view. Or

they can tell us that no particular Brexit deal is good and we should call off Brexit.

This is how our democracy works. It balances our representative democracy with the fact we have had the 2016 referendum. Our representative democracy does not demand that MPs surrender their judgement.

This government has spent the last two years trying to find a Brexit that is good for the country. If neither the Prime Minister’s Brexit, nor a no deal Brexit commands a majority in parliament, MPs must agree to go back to the people to ask them whether they want to stay in the European Union.

Editor’s Note: Here is Wera’s speech

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Communities and Local Government, and is on the Brexit Select Committee.

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23 Comments

  • Nom de Plume 6th Dec '18 - 7:17pm

    The title of the Huffington Post article is unfortunate. The content of the article is fine. Perhaps the title should have been: There Has Never been a Single Mandate for Brexit. Perhaps it was meant a click-bait.

    Four months to 29 March 2019 and parliament is in as much a confusion about Brexit as ever. If May’s deal is rejected, then a second referendum would seem to me to be the only way to decide, however difficult it may be for some. Parliament appears to be too split to decide. Otherwise a disorderly Brexit awaits.

  • Nom de Plume 6th Dec '18 - 7:24pm

    There are some things one should not try and simply muddle through.

  • What we MPs cannot do on our own, however, in light of the referendum in 2016, is to choose to stay in the EU. We can legitimately reject any particular Brexit deal in accordance with our judgement but we cannot move from there and cancel Brexit by ourselves.

    Totally wrong!

    If you want to respect the referendum result, you would know that the vote was merely an indication for a direction of travel; not for a specific form of Brexit. It was the government who decided Brexit meant invoking Article 50 within weeks of the vote without due thought or any consultation with the electorate. Thus MPs can vote to remain in the EU, at the present time – terminating the current “specific form of Brexit”, leaving the Brexiteers to come up with another option…

    I’ve always maintained the best way to leave the EU is to remain, in part because whilst we remain we have a place at the table, the issue is whether the UK is mature enough to use that place…

  • The majority of MPs are Remainers, so they should find a way of voting Remain in Parliament. If No Deal doesn’t work, if the PM’s hard-fought-for compromise Deal doesn’t work, if Norway+ doesn’t work, there is one sane conclusion. MPs should realise this and not cower behind a people’s vote. We elect them to do a job, and they should get on with it. Time to Lead, not to Follow!

  • Arnold Kiel 7th Dec '18 - 5:37pm

    Wera, you are avoiding the hard question: what can a MP do, after May’s deal and the Peoples’ Vote are both rejected by Parliament? Can he/she then vote for the revocation of the Art. 50 notification? IMO you must; no referendum can relieve you from that duty.

    Besides, this Government has not for one second tried to find a “Brexit that is good for the country”. All it ever pursued was a Brexit that superficially bridged the conflicts within the Conservative party. Not even that has worked.

  • Peter Martin 7th Dec '18 - 7:53pm

    @ Paul Walter

    “Well, one needs to ask, exactly who elected the House of Commons and when did they do it?”

    We can ask the same question about who elected the early 2016 HoC which voted by 544-53 to hold the referendum.

    You may now be thinking “why did they do it?”

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Dec '18 - 1:03pm

    @ Roland,
    Thank you for addressing a point that left me confused given the convoluted arguments.

    The Liberal Democrats have consistently argued that the referendum was only advisory, ( (although no-one seemed troubled to inform the electorate of this fact before the referendum).

    Given this fact, ( which was unknown to me before the referendum), it that always puzzled me why the party did not from the outset, argue that having consulted the people, MPs should then take responsibility for a decision.

    I am opposed to referenda, we do indeed have a representative democracy, so why this drawn out clamour for a second referendum? And would that also be advisory?

    It is a pity that no-one seemed prepared to make our parliamentary representatives take do the job they were elected and paid to do and take responsibility for it. Instead those people affected by the vote, and the economy have suffered because of the years of uncertainty.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Dec '18 - 1:35pm

    What sense! This is the best attempt I’ve seen to link the two strands of our democracy. The referendum gave a strategic guide to our parliamentarians. If they cannot find a deal that seems in the best interests of the country, they should go back to the people for further instructions. It sounds a bit like professionals taking instructions from their clients.

  • nvelope2003 8th Dec '18 - 2:49pm

    Jayne Mansfield: The UK Parliament (The Queen, House of Lords and House of Commons) is the sovereign of the United Kingdom and only that body can enact laws as confirmed by the Supreme Court. However, the Government said in its booklet that it would implement whatever decision the voters made. However if legislation is required to implement the decision then only Parliament can do that so it could say that it will not do so as it considered that it would not be in the national interest to do it. The political effects of such a decision might cause the sort of riots we have seen in France and other countries where the will of the people is considered to have been ignored or cause a loss of confidence in the political system. Mr Cameron was acting outside his competence to make such a promise in line with other unwise decisions that he foisted on the country – the bombing of Libya springs to mind.

  • Yeovil Yokel 8th Dec '18 - 3:27pm

    Jayne Mansfield – “…..although no-one seemed troubled to inform the electorate of this fact before the referendum.” I distinctly recall that during May 2016 the BBC News website had a FAQ section about the Referendum, and it confirmed that the Referendum was advisory. I can’t speak for other news & current affairs sources.

  • Yeovil Yokel 8th Dec '18 - 3:31pm

    nvelope 2003 – sorry, old boy, we don’t do riots, it wouldn’t be cricket (or even French Cricket).

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Dec '18 - 4:09pm

    nvelope,
    I understand what you are saying in the first part of your post, so my argument would have been that politicians should have been held to account for making decisions that were/ were not in the national interest immediately after the last referendum.

    Once more there is a desire to put their responsibility onto ‘the people’ many of whom will gladly accept that they have not had the time or the inclination to study all the new information that has been posted since the last referendum. It is again, a dereliction of duty to put that responsibility on ‘the people.

    Moreover, given that the AV vote and the Scottish referendum vote were enacted, it is entirely understandable that people might assume that this would be the case with the EU referendum.

    @ Yeovil Yokel,

    Not everyone, including myself wants to spend every waking day sifting through constitutional and legal matters. I was reading posts on this site before the referendum and I do not remember my attention being drawn to the fact that the referendum would only be advisory.

    ‘Full fact, ‘ Was the EU referendum ‘advisory’. discusses the legal and the political dimensions .

    There might be a riot today. I hope not , because I cannot be there to oppose the speakers at the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ Demonstration alongside with friends who voted in different ways at the referendum, and are there as anti-fascists not pro and anti- Brexiteers.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Dec '18 - 4:44pm

    nvelope,
    I understand what you are saying in the first part of your post, politicians should have been held to account for making decisions that were/ were not in the national interest immediately after the last referendum.

    Once more there is a desire to put their responsibility onto ‘the people’ many of whom will gladly accept that they have not had the time or the inclination to study all the new information that has been posted since the last referendum. It is again, a dereliction of duty to put that responsibility on ‘the people’.

    @ Yeovil Yokel,
    Not everyone, including myself wants to spend every waking day sifting through constitutional and legal matters. I was reading posts on this site before the referendum and I do not remember my attention being drawn to the fact that the referendum would only be advisory.

    ‘Full fact, ‘ Was the EU referendum ‘advisory’. discusses the legal and the political dimensions .

    Given that the AV referendum decision and the Scottish Independence referendum decision were enacted, it is not difficult to understand why people who voted in the EU referendum would have assumed that the result would be honoured.

    We are in a mess created by politicians who seem to be intent on making a bad situation worse.

    Is Wera correct about what MPs can do on their own or is she not? It is a simple enough question.

  • Paul Holmes 8th Dec '18 - 7:59pm

    Of course there is the inconvenient fact that the Government in 2016 wrote to every household with an explanatory pamphlet (weighted to the Remain side of the argument) and saying that they would implement the decision of the Referendum, whether it was Leave or Remain.

  • Of course there is the inconvenient fact that the Government in 2016 wrote to every household

    But the Government is not Parliament…

    That is why in some respects it is important for the Conservative Government to fail to deliver Brexit, due in part to the rank and file Conservative MPs turning against their own Government’s Executive…

    Yes there will be a politicial crisis, but that is very different to a Constitutional crisis. Although as a result of Brexit we might (hopefully) see the powers of the Executive reduced, and making the UK slightly more democratic.

  • OnceALibDem 8th Dec '18 - 11:20pm

    “Of course there is the inconvenient fact that the Government in 2016 wrote to every household with an explanatory pamphlet (weighted to the Remain side of the argument) and saying that they would implement the decision of the Referendum, whether it was Leave or Remain.”

    Pedant mode on – but that is not this Government.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Dec '18 - 10:21am

    @OnceALibDem,
    I am not sure that such pedantry does anything to persuade leavers in the areas where there was a strong leave vote, other than confirm to them that one can’t trust a politician.

    Those who voted leave know what they were promised in the referendum, and no attempt to undermine what they firmly believe is likely to have traction.

    Maybe, given that they are told that Brexit will be costly, it is ( belatedly), time to start talking about the way money saved from remaining in the EU rather than leaving will be spent in their areas to improve their lives and that of their families.

    The Remain campaign before the last referendum was dire. The so called left -behind were more concerned about whether they could get their children into a decent primary school close to their home than whether there would no longer be an Erasmus scheme. They were concerned about the NHS and decent jobs. And yet, this party still thinks it can change minds by undermining their understandings, and has wasted precious time since the last referendum failing to address the concerns that led to a leave majority.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Dec '18 - 12:27pm

    @Jayne Mansfield

    This article in New Statesman provides some good advice on how not to repeat the mistakes of 2016: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/brexit/2018/12/seven-rules-remainers-if-they-want-win-people-s-vote

  • jayne mansfield 9th Dec '18 - 2:03pm

    @ Laurence Cox,

    Thank you for the link.

    Having bought ‘Marketing for Dummies’ some time ago and put it down unread, I may have to dig it out, read it and share it widely.

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