Liberal Democrats slammed by People's Vote campaign over 'deeply unhelpful' Brexit referendum bid

Posted On: 
7th December 2018

Fresh splits have emerged in the campaign for a second Brexit referendum as a Liberal Democrat bid for another poll was branded “deeply unhelpful” by the People’s Vote group.

A Lib Dem source said the party would 'continue to work with campaigners and MPs from other parties to secure a people’s vote'.
Credit: 
PA

The campaign group accused Sir Vince Cable’s party of "political point scoring" after the Lib Dems tabled an amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit deal instructing ministers "to take all necessary steps to prepare for a People’s Vote".

Meanwhile the separate Best for Britain organisation - which also backs a second public vote - urged the Lib Dems to shelve the amendment altogether.

John McDonnell in row with Unite boss Len McCluskey over second Brexit referendum

Tony Blair insists result of second Brexit referendum would be 'final'

Labour sister party backs 'People's Vote' on Brexit deal in challenge to Jeremy Corbyn

The party's move comes just days before the crunch Commons vote on Mrs May’s deal, in which she is widely expected to face a hefty defeat.

Explaining the decision to table an amendment, Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: “Whilst we have heard warm words from Labour MPs, including the shadow chancellor, Labour seem unlikely to support a final say despite it being popular with their voters and members.

“However, if Labour MPs and others who are concerned about the country’s future want to join us, Liberal Democrats would welcome their support.

“The Conservative government have brought a deal back that nobody wanted nor voted for. If Theresa May thinks the country is with her she must put it to the test by offering a people’s vote with an option to remain in the EU.”

Party insiders said the move was designed to ensure that the Lib Dems fulfilled a longstanding pledge to push for a public vote and give people "the final say on Brexit".

It comes amid signs that other amendments aimed at securing a referendum are likely to be shelved until after the predicted defeat for Mrs May’s deal.

But the bid drew swift condemnation from the People’s Vote campaign group, which instead wants to wait until Mrs May’s deal is rejected in the Commons to ensure “maximum support” for a second referendum in parliament. 

It is understood that campaign chiefs believe MPs will be more likely to rally behind a second vote if Mrs May’s deal falls and the country faces the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal.

A spokesperson for the group said: “The amendment by the Liberal Democrats is deeply unhelpful at this stage and does not have cross-party support or the backing of the People’s Vote campaign.”

They added: “The focus and strategy of our campaign has always been first to get the Government’s Brexit deal rejected by Parliament on Tuesday and then pave the way for a people’s vote when it has maximum support in the House of Commons.

“This amendment is more about political point scoring than following a strategy and it would be deeply unfair for the Liberal Democrats to use this amendment against other supporters of the People’s Vote campaign who are united behind efforts to get the deal rejected and then secure the British public the final say they deserve.”

A spokesperson for Best for Britain meanwhile said: "We have spoken to the Liberal Democrats this morning about their amendment. We are grateful to them for their role as early pioneers of a people's vote and their record of working cross party to advance this aim. We hope they will continue to do this in these final, vital weeks and withdraw their amendment."

'LED THE FIGHT'

But a Lib Dem source told PoliticsHome: "The Liberal Democrats have led the fight for the people to have the final say on Brexit from the start.

"At every stage we have sought to promote a people’s vote and give parliament the option to support us.

"We will continue to work with campaigners and MPs from other parties to secure a people’s vote and the option to remain in the EU."