Justine Greening: Let public have their say to break Brexit deadlock. It’s the only way forward

Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary, is advocating a second referendum on Brexit.
Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary, is advocating a second referendum on Brexit.
0
Have your say

I WAS going back to my Yorkshire roots and calling a spade a spade on Monday when I called the Chequers Deal on Brexit and
the subsequent White Paper a “fudge”.

It’s a difficult conclusion to reach, but whatever communities MPs represent across the country, there seems to a have been a big thumbs- down from voters.

David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary earlier this month, but has the respect of his former Cabinet colleague Justine Greening.

David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary earlier this month, but has the respect of his former Cabinet colleague Justine Greening.

I count David Davis as a friend, and when I left Government he took me out for lunch – now I’ll return the favour.

He is a thoughtful and principled man. As the architect of the Brexit strategy, and someone I very much respect, we’d be wrong not to listen to the concerns that led him to leave the Government last week.

And when you do, although I may have campaigned for Remain, I totally understand his and Leave voters’ unhappiness.

They don’t feel that this proposal gives them the clean break from the EU that they wanted, and they’re right – it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, for those of us who represent communities with more Remain voters, my local constituents think if we’re accepting a “Common Rule Book” with the EU, we’d surely be better off sitting at the table when the rules are being made. They’re left scratching their heads about what the point of it all is if Leave voters aren’t happy either.

I think what this tells us is that on Brexit and the EU, basically you’re in or you’re out. Anyone who’s in business knows that you won’t be successful if you have a wishy-washy strategy. You have to commit to a clear direction, a clear strategy, get people behind it and then follow it through. You can’t ride two horses. As Margaret Thatcher put it succinctly: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous. You get hit from both directions.”

It’s also clear that Parliament is gridlocked and can’t get a majority to back any route forward. Different groups of MPs will block different proposals. Parliament will vote against a watered-down final deal brought back by the PM from Brussels. Enough MPs already disagree with the Chequers deal and that’s even before the EU has done its best to undermine it.

Parliament will also vote against a “no deal” scenario too. The problem all along has been that Parliament works on party lines, but Brexit cuts across those. Brexit is the parliamentary equivalent of pouring diesel into a car that runs on unleaded petrol. The Westminster engine can’t cope. And there’s another democracy problem on top of that.

Because whatever each MP does, even if it’s a free vote, they’ll be disenfranchising thousands of people in their community when they vote for one approach or another. On something this important, I think that’s unacceptable. Brexit will affect all our lives for generations to come so all our voices must count.

The bottom line is you don’t fix a problem by ignoring it. Parliament in stalemate might be an inconvenient truth, but it is a truth nevertheless.

So if Parliament can’t decisively resolve a way forward then we must allow the public to have their say and finally break the deadlock.

But with what kind of vote? A General Election wouldn’t be the answer because Brexit isn’t about party politics so we’d end up in the same place we are now.

Therefore it has to be a straightforward vote for people on the final Brexit options, and between the three practical paths we could take in reality: the final negotiated Chequers Deal by the Prime Minister; No Deal and leaving on WTO rules; or Remaining in the EU.

I think everyone should have two votes for their first best and second best choice. It’s how South Yorkshire people just elected Dan Jarvis as their Sheffield City Region Mayor, and you’re more likely to get people swinging behind an option. And unlike last time, we should have this referendum as a binding result so it cannot be fudged by any government.

I massively regret the fact that Parliament cannot fully deliver on the 2016 referendum result, but it has at least done the work to now set out the clear and more detailed Brexit alternatives for the public to choose from and passed the Bills to be able to get on with the job.

And whatever Brexit path lies ahead, let’s never forget the rest of the big challenges our country faces.

They were there before Brexit and they’ll still be there after any Brexit. I campaign on equality of opportunity and social mobility. Unless we tackle the lack of opportunity for too many young people growing up in places such as Yorkshire, I don’t think Britain will ever really feel, or be, any different to today.

And things have got to change. There are some in Westminster who are scared of going back to people to have the final say on Brexit. But I’m not. In fact, I think it’s essential and I do trust the British people to give the decisiveness of direction this country desperately needs.

Justine Greening is a Tory MP. The former Education Secretary, she was born in Rotherham and writes a monthly column for The Yorkshire Post.