Today Labour’s Gareth Thomas tabled a ten minute rule bill that, if passed, would enable a “People’s Vote” on the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The MP for Harrow West warned in his speech that the terms of Brexit were not clear at the time of the referendum. “It was never explained that we would have less money for the NHS or that we would have to pay £40m to the EU for a worse relationship,” he said.
The Co-operative Party co-chair told LabourList that he had wanted to bring these proposals forward for some time as he sees the EU as “the biggest co-operative project in the world”.
Thomas added: “Leaving it will have bigger ramifications for the country than any bill or budget, so I think it is only right that the people decide how we leave.”
Though ten minute rule bills seldom pass, they can be an effective tool for raising the profile of an issue and to gauge the feeling of the House towards a proposal.
The Labour MP told LabourList: “I hope this bill will pass but of course I will be looking for other legislative opportunities, such as the EU Withdrawal Bill.”
Thomas will have been pleased to see a fairly large contingent of Remainer MPs in the Chamber during his speech, including co-chair of Open Britain Chuka Umunna and Owen Smith, who was sacked from the shadow cabinet after calling for a second Brexit referendum.
The Tory benches were slightly thinner than one might expect, however. Support from rebel Tory MPs such as Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke would be critical for the bill to pass.
The odds seem to be against him but he is undeterred. “I am ever optimistic,” the MP says.
Does he think his colleagues in the Labour Party will get behind his proposals? “I hope they will. I didn’t table this bill to undermine the policies being put forward by the leadership. I am an instinctive loyalist and I am right behind the frontbench’s approach to Brexit”.
Asked whether he will defy the leadership to get his bill through, he says: “I would rather persuade than rebel”.
The bill could pass if enough backbenchers rebelled against their party whips, as demonstrated by last night’s surprise government defeat in the Lords. Peers defied party whips to vote for an amendment that would make joining the European Economic Area a priority in Brexit negotiations.
Is Thomas confident? He seems hesitant but believes the idea is gaining popularity. The issue could well come to a head at party conference this year, as new campaign LabourSay.EU pushes for the peoples’ vote proposal to be put to a vote.
Throughout his speech, Thomas made clear that he was not trying to stand in the way of Brexit. He voted to trigger Article 50 but says the terms of Brexit were never clear. The Labour MP argues it is only right that the people get the final say once the government does have a proposed deal.