THE Labour Party is right not to rule out a second referendum; I hope we will go further than that in coming days.
I was a Remainer, but it is ridiculous to say that people did not understand what they voted for.
Generally, they thought long and hard about it. Rather unfashionably, I also think that in 40 or 50 years’ time we may look back at this time in British history — in a short period, we have had two referendums, on Scotland and the European Union, that challenged the whole nature of the British state — and find that, although families and communities were riven, it all showed the strength of British democracy.
There was high turnout in both referendums and they have energised a whole new generation into politics.
Obviously, the story is not yet finished and we all have a responsibility over the coming months to make sure that the outcome is good for our nation.
I do not believe that our greatness depends on whether we are in or out of the European Union; I believe that we are a great country in any regard and a strong enough democracy.
Should the House of Commons decide to go down the lines of a second referendum, I do not think there would be riots in the street – we would take it in our stride in a phlegmatic, British way, and there would be strong debates.
I was at the Unison political conference in the great county of Yorkshire on Saturday, and a couple of delegates were pointing out that it is quite common in trade union practice to decide on a course of action, go and negotiate with the employer and then come back to the membership and ask whether they support the precise deal that has been agreed or not. I think that is the stage we are at now.
I want to say why I cannot support the deal that is before Parliament. It creates too much uncertainty for businesses and unions on jobs and it kicks into the long grass all the difficult problems about the precise nature of our relationship to the customs union and single market.
I hope we would be close to both those institutions, but the issue is left in doubt, and uncertain, which means the nation will have a weak negotiating hand. Once we are out, any trade agreement that we reach with the European nations depends on unanimity, whereas at the moment that is not the case.
Once we are out, anything we agree depends on every nation agreeing the precise details. We would be far better off coming to agreement before we are out on important issues such as the single market and the customs union. Uncertainty on the economy and a weak negotiating hand in the future are the reasons why I shall vote against the deal.
If the deal goes down — and it looks very much as if it will — someone will have to do something. There will be a Plan B. I understand that the Trade Bill is coming back the day after the meaningful vote and some people say the Government will adopt the Labour Party policy of pretty well staying in the customs union, and possibly a close relationship with the single market.
If not, a referendum is one of the only options open to Her Majesty’s Government. There are practical difficulties, of course, but if there was a request to the European Union from Her Majesty’s Ministers to hold a further referendum and remain was to be one of the options, I think we would undoubtedly get the time necessary.
There would have to be three main options. One would have to be no deal. My constituency was split, as many were – about 53 per cent to come out and roughly 47 per cent to stay in. People should be able to say “No deal”. It would be a disaster for our nation and economy, but it should be one option. How do we do it? We ask two questions.
There is a precedent in Scotland. I understand that the Scottish referendum had two questions – about whether people wanted devolution, and about whether they wanted the Parliament to have tax-raising powers.
The second Brexit referendum would obviously be a two-question referendum – possibly “Do you want to stay in or come out?” and, if people wanted to come out “Is it the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister or not?” – the deal or no deal, in effect. It could be done and would be a way to bring things to a conclusion if there were a complete impasse in Parliament. We have asked the people once. If Parliament cannot come to a clear conclusion, the second referendum must be something we consider.
John Grogan is the Labour MP for Keighley. He spoke in a Parliamentary debate on a second referendum – this is an edited version.