I WANT to start where we should begin, which is with the state of the country.
Let us be honest about this: the state of the country is deeply divided. We were divided by the referendum and we still are divided. Many leavers were delighted by the result but are anxious about what is going to come next. Many remainers are desolate about the outcome and fearful of the demons that have been unleashed. Both sides have reasons for their feelings. Let us be honest: this is not a good state of affairs for the country.
The Brexit Secretary of State (David Davis) and the Government say they want to create a national consensus. It is up to all of us to try to heal the divisions and create a consensus of the 52 per cent and the 48 per cent. Let us be honest, that will be difficult, but it is what we should try to do. From my side, remain, and for my part, I believe it means we should accept the result of the referendum as part of trying to bridge that divide.
People voted and we should accept the result. But, if I can put it this way, the humility of those who lost should be matched by the magnanimity of those who won. Responsibilities lie on both sides and, if I may say so in passing, we should stop impugning each other’s motives. The vast majority of people who voted to leave did not do so because of prejudice. And, if I can put it the other way, those who are now advocating proper scrutiny and consent from this Parliament are not doing so, as the Daily Mail says, because we want to reverse the vote.
It is for much deeper reasons than that: it is about the mandate from the referendum. We need to put the labels of remain and leave behind us, but that is the beginning, because if the Government are serious about creating a national consensus, then how do we that? We have to take the country with us on this new journey. This cannot be the political equivalent of the country being put to sleep for two years on an anaesthetic and waking up in a magical new land. That has never been the way our democracy worked and it will certainly not work on an issue as big as this.
We need a Government willing to be transparent and consultative with the people and, indeed Parliament. Even the Secretary of State believes that, because three days before his appointment, he was saying that we should have a pre-negotiation White Paper. Would it not also be an irony if the main act of those who argued in the referendum for the sovereignty of Parliament was to deny the sovereignty of Parliament in determining the outcome of the Brexit negotiations?
I want to deal with the four arguments that have been adduced for why Parliament should not get a vote over this referendum, because I do not think any of them stands up to scrutiny. The first argument is, “Well, we’ve had a referendum.” Correct: we have had a referendum, but the referendum determined that we are leaving the European Union. To those who say that the form of Brexit we would have was absolutely clear, I point this out. The Secretary of State himself advocated in 2012 that we should remain a member of the customs union. If it was so clear that we were leaving the customs union and the single market, why was he advocating the opposite position just four years before?
The second argument is an Executive power argument. On something as big as this, with these huge questions about our membership of the single market and our place in the world, surely the consent of the House is necessary?
The third argument is the secrecy argument. I think this is, as the Foreign Secretary (Boris Johnson) might say, baloney as well, because the reality is that, as sure as anything, these negotiations will leak. If there was ever any abuse of the House of Commons and its place, that would be it.
The fourth argument is the red herring of the Great Repeal Bill. I think the Great Repeal Bill should be renamed the Great Entrenchment Bill. Why do I say that? It is because the plan is actually to entrench European law into British domestic law.
There is another reason, which could be the case – I really hope it is not– which is that the Government do not like the answer they will get if they ask Parliament for its consent.
In other words, they do not believe there is a majority for hard Brexit in the House of Commons, so the thing they are desperate to avoid at all costs is getting the consent of this House, because they think they will end up in a negotiation in which they do not like the thing they are negotiating for.
Well, I am afraid that is tough, because they need the consent and the confidence of this House on an issue as big as this, when there is no mandate from the referendum, certainly no mandate from the manifesto – which, let us remember, said yes to the single market – and no mandate for a Prime Minister who, let us not forget, was a remainer.
Ed Miliband is the Doncaster North MP and former Labour leader. This is an edited version of his Commons speech on Brexit.