Jonathan Edwards MP: A People’s Vote insurance policy - Let’s not let pragmatics get in the way of principle

Posted On: 
14th February 2019

Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards writes ahead of today's key Brexit votes "The amendment I have tabled would, if passed, direct the British Government to negotiate into the Political Declaration a commitment to hold a referendum at the end of phase two negotiations on the UK-EU future relationship".

Credit: 
PA

Eat, drink, vote on a Brexit motion, repeat. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Fatboy Slim’s ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’, but it pretty much sums up life as an MP at the moment.

We move from gridlock to Groundhog Day, as the Government continues with the most dangerous and costly can-kicking exercise in history. Billions are being spent on the No Deal outcome that nigh on no one in Parliament wants to see. In fact, despite the Government’s attempts to airbrush it from history, a majority in Parliament voted against that catastrophic outcome.

I’m not going to use much of my word limit to expound the virtues of a People’s Vote – it is, after all, the only logical way out of this mess.

The problem of delivering it is, however, a subject on the mind of many a pro-European politician.

The issue is twofold and intertwined in a knot that seemingly no one can untangle – Loyal MPs from both the Tories and Labour who support a People’s Vote will not break ranks until the very last minute; but that same ‘very last minute’ will be too late to deliver the practicalities of a People’s Vote.

European elections and budget cycles begin in May, making extending Article 50 beyond the start of the summer difficult (although not impossible). The argument levelled against the People’s Vote campaign continues to be the passage of necessary legislation and the required campaign period would take us beyond this point.

Of course, the Labour frontbench could just grow a backbone and we could have all of this in the bag by Thursday, with a People’s Vote held well within the Article 50 period.

And that is what I will continue to press for. If not now, then the next Brexit vote should be grabbed by Labour as an opportunity to deliver a that final say on our European future. However, Labour’s lack of logical Brexit position means this is unlikely and the vacuum created by a lack of opposition will be filled by more dithering and delay from the Prime Minister.

So we need a People’s Vote insurance policy. A way to guarantee a People’s Vote come what may. A democratic ‘backstop’, you might say.

The option I will put forward in Today’s debate will achieve just that. The amendment I have tabled would, if passed, direct the British Government to negotiate into the Political Declaration a commitment to hold a referendum at the end of phase two negotiations on the UK-EU future relationship. The legislation enabling the referendum could then be included in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, needed for ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.

In other words, if time runs out in the Article 50 period, a referendum could be held towards the end of the transition phase - the point at which we will know exactly what our future relationship with Europe will really look like.

I of course accept that under this model, the UK would have to negotiate with the European Union the ability to re-join the EU under the current terms of our membership, should the people ultimately reject the deal and opt to remain. But this is no less likely – no less of an ask – than what the British Government are already asking for.

This new proposal would avoid a no deal, remove the need to contest EU elections and give the people of the UK a final say on the deal as a complete package. It is not the best answer, it isn’t even my favoured option, but it is a workable compromise.

The current Mexican standoff continues to ensure no victor and no way out of this nightmarish Brexit spin cycle. We need to ensure that the pragmatics don’t get in the way of principal and ensure that if it is wanted – as I believe it is – a People’s Vote is delivered.