Vince Cable MP: 'With 100 Liberal Democrat peers, the Brexiters are coming on to our turf'
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable writes for PoliticsHome ahead of this week’s Lords Second Reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill, saying a defeat for the Conservatives in the Lords will prove that an exit from Brexit is still possible.
Brexit is a war of attrition.
But, slowly, we ‘Remoaners’ are gaining ground.
Three recent surveys point to significant support for the Liberal Democrats’ long-standing policy of the need to give the British public a say on the final terms of any deal with the EU.
Last month, a Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday showed one in two voters backed this call. Over the weekend, an ICM poll for The Guardian put the lead at 16-points over those who oppose a vote. A less scientific, but nevertheless substantial, survey of currently around 95,000 people on Sky News, shows a 58:42 split in favour of our proposal at the time of writing.
This is why Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement this weekend that the “ship has sailed” on staying in the EU is so bizarre. At best, this shows he does not have the stomach for the fight; at worst, it reveals what many of us have long suspected given his decades of Parliamentary opposition to the EU – that he wanted out all along.
Either way, he is letting down his members and Parliamentary base. A recent report by Queen Mary University found that 78% of Labour members back a vote on the poll. Even more favour a ‘soft Brexit’ of remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union – again, Corbyn has ruled this out from being official Labour policy.
The Labour leadership, then, is creeping towards backing the economically damaging hard Brexit that a weakened Theresa May is pursuing to placate her right wing. In making this move, the Labour leadership in the House of Commons is reneging on its responsibility as the official opposition.
This has been demonstrated by their failure to attend meetings of, and back amendments tabled by, the unholy alliance I have forged with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens to fight the Conservatives’ fundamentally flawed vision of Brexit.
But now we’re on to the House of Lords. With 100 Liberal Democrat peers, the Brexiters are coming on to our turf. We have identified several amendments, perhaps into double figures, that we can win, including reducing Henry VIII powers and getting rid of the Conservatives’ insistence on setting a ‘Brexit Day’, which would only denude our negotiating position.
There are plenty of rebel Conservative peers – 15 helped defeat the government on aspects of the Article 50 Bill last year and their number has surely grown. Labour peers must also realise the is their time to strike and join us in taking the fight to the Conservatives.
Parliamentary support for a referendum on the terms of any deal has not yet caught up with public opinion, but I’m increasingly confident that it will. MPs and peers just want to know they are backing a horse that has a chance of winning.
As we defeat the Conservatives in the Lords, or force them to make concessions, we will prove that the Brexit ship has not sailed, that the currents of public opinion are pushing the country to look at the deal itself. An exit from Brexit is still possible.
Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Twickenham