Peter Hain: Voters need to rescue Theresa May and the country from this folly

Posted On: 
22nd October 2018

The difference between what was offered by Brexiteers and what is achievable has widened into an unbridgeable gulf. We must put the deal to the people, writes Lord Hain 

The People's Vote march in London An estimated 670,000 people marched in London this weekend to call for a vote on the Brexit deal
Credit: 
PA

Continued Brexit negotiating crises cannot hide this basic fact: even if the Prime Minister were to get absolutely everything she has demanded from the EU, she would still be abandoning the 80% of our economy in the services sector and lumbering taxpayers with a £50bn divorce bill we will be paying until 2064.

The difference between what was offered by Brexiteers in the June 2016 Referendum and what is achievable has been widening into an unbridgeable gulf. It will mean paying more to get less – a divorce that will leave us with much less control and less influence in the world.

How can even those obligated by the referendum result justify backing an outcome that will make their constituents worse off, deepen poverty, trigger unemployment, damage the economy and torpedo the Good Friday peace process in Northern Ireland? How is that better than the deal inside the EU we have already got?

That a no deal Brexit is still given houseroom as a legitimate outcome speaks volumes to the fundamental irresponsibility of not only Brexiteers, but Theresa May and her government.

When last did a British government threaten Parliament and the people with something they know to be grossly detrimental to the national interest to get their way on a deal which may be better but is still dreadful? May is blackmailing MPs and the country.

There are three alternatives to a no deal Brexit.

First, call an election to achieve a new government with a different mandate. But few think that likely. 

Second, vote for a different Brexit model, such as Norway’s alignment to the single market. But that is vigorously opposed by ardent Brexiteers and would in any event mean queues at Dover and a hard border in Ireland as it does not include a customs agreement.

Instead, the choice being presented to MPs is between a terrible Chequers deal designed to appease Jacob Rees-Mogg, or driving off the cliff with a no-deal departure from the EU. A choice between shooting ourselves in the heart or shooting ourselves in the head.

But a third option exists in the form of a People’s Vote. Parliament should amend the Chequers proposal as it sees fit and then put that to the people – handing back to voters the choice between whatever are the proposed terms of Brexit and staying in the EU.

The Prime Minister maintains that giving the people a vote on her proposals would be ‘undemocratic’. But then, she would, wouldn’t she? To appease her party, she has staked her political future on delivering something she doesn’t believe in, knows won’t work and understands to be against the national interest.

Voters need to rescue her and the country from this folly. We began this saga with a People’s Vote in 2016 which decided narrowly to Leave, and we should end it with a People’s Vote to decide if any deal or no deal really is what voters wanted all along. 

Or whether, given the chaos or damage that now beckons, they want to think again and remain in the EU.    

Lord Hain is a Labour peer, and former MP for Neath and cabinet minister. The House of Lords will debate the case for a People's Vote on Thursday 25th October.