As MPs debate amendments to Theresa May’s Brexit bill and various suggestions to break through the current deadlock including giving the British people the final say, bitter opponents of a people’s vote might not enjoy being reminded of how articulate they have been in the past about the arguments for a second referendum.
For instance the Brexit campaigner and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith recently insisted Britain would face the same sort of unrest as France if Brits were allowed a second referendum on Brexit.
But the former Tory Party leader would do well to recall that he himself tabled an amendment for a second referendum to give people the final say once it became clear what Scottish and Welsh devolution would actually be like during the Referendums Bill debate in 1997.
The Conservative MP was very clear in his logic, explaining to MPs: “surely only when the detailed legislation has been passed by the House can we go to the people and say to them, “Is this what you said you wanted? Because it does not work—or at least, some of us think that it does not—and here are the reasons why.” That must be the right device.”
But Iain Duncan Smith is not the only Brexiteer who appears to have forgotten what they previously said about the practicalities of having a second referendum.
“We could have two referendums [sic],” Jacob Rees-Mogg told the House of Commons in a debate on an EU Referendum in 2011, adding: “As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.” – Or a People’s Vote on the deal perhaps?
Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave campaign director, made a similar point in January 2016, when he said: “There are good grounds for a new government team to offer the public a voice on what the deal looks like. And we obviously wouldn’t oppose that… I think there’s a strong democratic case for it.”
Not forgetting Nigel Farage insisting a narrow win for Remain would mean a second referendum if the results were close in May 2016 a month before the EU referendum.
And the former Brexit Secretary David Davis in a speech on the opportunities of an EU referendum in November 2012, insisted: “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”
In another debate on Regional Assembies, Davis spelled out clearly the arguments for giving the people the final say once they have seen what tehy are letting themselves in for.
In November 2002, he told MPs: “Referendums should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgment. They should be held when people can view all the arguments for and against and when those arguments have been rigorously tested.
“In short, referendums should be held when people know exactly what they are getting. So legislation should be debated by Members of Parliament on the Floor of the House, and then put to the electorate for the voters to judge.
“We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards. For referendums to be fair and compatible with our parliamentary process, we need the electors to be as well informed as possible and to know exactly what they are voting for. Referendums need to be treated as an addition to the parliamentary process, not as a substitute for it.”
And in a speech to Tory activists in November 2012, he explained his “so-called double referendum strategy” to persuade the British people to leave the EU. “This is less complex than it sounds,” Davis explained. “First it requires us to decide very clearly what our negotiating aims are…
“Then we present that negotiating package to the British people, and seek their approval for it in a referendum.”
Perhaps the most hypocritical of all is the Prime Minister’s amnesia regarding the Welsh referendum.
The Prime Minister may not be an ardent Brexiteer having outlined clearly her views on how Brexit would leave the UK poorer and less secure before the EU Referendum of 2016.
But her continued insistence that the people should not be given the final say on the Brexit deal the country faces does not quite chime with her previous views after the Welsh referendum.
In Stoke-on-Trent in a speech this month to galvanise support for her position, Theresa May was due to say “when the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh assembly, that result was accepted by both sides and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned.”
But as soon as people called out the lie in a version of her speech pre-released to press, she was forced to change it.
Not only did many Tories like Theresa May vote against the Welsh Assembly in the bill put to the House of Commons despite the Welsh referendum having been won,- but even years after the Conservative Party – including May – fought the 2005 general election with a manifesto promising a second referendum for Wales with an option to scrap the assembly…