A referendum on the exit package could pull us out of the fire – and Labour should grasp this opportunity with both hands, writes Geraint Davies.
Today I published my Terms of Withdrawal from the EU (Referendum) bill, which provides a referendum on the negotiated EU exit package to give voters the final say on Brexit.
The timing couldn’t be better: last week, a poll by Survation, the only pollsters to correctly predict the 2017 election results, found that over half of voters support a referendum on the EU exit package, and recently the Labour frontbench also appeared not to rule out a referendum.
Meanwhile, the author of article 50 has confirmed that it is not too late to reverse the process, if the government is willing. A referendum on the exit package could pull us out of the fire. This afternoon there will be a parliamentary debate on a petition signed by four million voters calling for a second referendum, and on Wednesday parliament will vote on an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill promising a ratification referendum on the final act, supported by Caroline Lucas and me, among others.
I, along with the majority of my constituents in Swansea West, voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. Immediately after the results I knew that Brexit was a horrific mistake, not least because I knew that the promises made to Leave voters would not be delivered, and that remains my view today. In the following week I presented a bill calling for a referendum to give people the final say on the exit package, with an option to continue our EU membership, if voters believe their reasonable expectations for Brexit are not realised. But it’s only recently that this idea has gained traction.
John Maynard Keynes famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” British voters are reasonable and pragmatic, and I believe they can be trusted to look at the facts and make a reasonable assessment.
And what about the facts? Last week David Davis admitted the government has not produced a single economic impact report on Brexit – despite demands from businesses across the country, who are desperate to know their fate, and despite previously stating that such reports existed in detail.
Constituents I speak to on the doorstep tell me “this isn’t what I voted for,” as the promises of Brexiteers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have turned out to be nothing but barefaced lies. The weekly cash bonanza promised to the NHS, and the pledge of single market access, are only the tip of the iceberg.
We now know that the divorce package alone will cost the British taxpayer up to £50bn – and this is before the other economic costs are included, such as rising inflation due to the pound’s weakness, tariffs on trade, and job losses resulting from investment moving elsewhere. In the past month, firms ranging from technology manufacturers to investment banks have signalled intentions to move out of Britain, as well as the European Banking Authority (to Paris), European Medicines Agency (to Amsterdam) – and Brexit has not even happened yet.
On the political side, the Conservative government is in complete disarray, disagreeing on more or less every single issue related to Brexit. Both the Conservatives and Labour cannot agree on what they want Brexit to look like – and many MPs (if not most) don’t want to leave at all. The only way to resolve this, for the sake of all our futures is to put the decision back into the hands of the people. Voters should have the last word on whether the deal on the table resembles the promises they voted for and whether the emerging costs and uncertainties make it better to maintain the status quo of staying in the EU.
Last week’s debacle – and eventual concession – over a hard border in Northern Ireland highlighted how fragile May’s position is, subject to last-minute whims of the DUP, and unable to command a majority in parliament. Mercifully, May scraped through to the second phase of negotiations on trade, but she has been warned that the worst is yet to come, and the clock is ticking: the package has to not only be agreed by London and Brussels, but also 27 EU member states.
Undeniably, the facts have changed since June 2016: only a fool would look at the last months’ events and say otherwise. My bill offers a blueprint for a way out of this mess: by giving people the final say, the government would allow the British people to choose between its negotiated arrangement and the option of reversing article 50 and remaining in the EU. This not only honours the will of the people, but also honours the economic and political reality which is increasingly catching up with our leaders in Westminster. A referendum on the exit package is surely the only way forward.
Geraint Davies is MP for Swansea West.