On Monday at 6pm a very small number of MPs agreed to discuss three petitions that have all had over 100,000 signatures. The petitions have been signed in the last 18 months so they are a great deal more recent than the referendum, but then by contrast 33.5 million people voted in the petition whereas at best case only 330,000 people signed one of the three petitions. The first petition began life in March 2019 and its title was Halt Brexit For A Public Inquiry, the next one began in April 2019 and its title was To establish a Public Inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 EU Referendum. The third petition began in March 2020 and it was different in content as it was Extend the transition; delay negotiations until after the coronavirus outbreak. The second petition was the one I signed, but I would have also signed the first one as I believe that we do need a public inquiry. The first person to speak was Mike Hill who is the Labour MP for Hartlepool and his statement included the following comment
These petitions mean different things to different people. Some see a halt to the transition period as necessary for the safety of the public, while others see it as a further attempt to delay Brexit by those who oppose it. From my own personal experience, the vast majority of my constituents would fall into the latter category, as almost three quarters of them voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. They would not want a further delay, after four and a half years of delays and false starts, unless it were completely unavoidable.
One of my strong reflections is how has Mike Hill gathered the views of his constituents, after all although it is very easy to count how they voted in June 2016, to know how they currently view things would require a great deal of effort to capture and the risk is he is simply stating that he knows what they felt 4 years ago. As we know very well, there are a huge number of constituents changed their views on political issues between 2015 and 2017 and between 2017 and 2019. If he is right then a second referendum would reassure him. He goes on to say “As far as the majority of my constituents are concerned, the United Kingdom’s 47-year-old membership of the European Union ended on 31 January 2020.” which is clearly nonsensical unless he can indicate how he gathers the views of the constituents. However towards the end of his presentation he does at least agree that an inquiry is needed
There are important lessons to be learned from campaigns in the run-up to and during the 2016 referendum. E-petition 250178, on foreign interference, points to the serious questions raised by the Russia report, commissioned by the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. This includes the potential influence of some senior figures within the leave campaign. I would personally welcome a further independent inquiry into that, as called for by the petition, as the Government’s response to the Committee’s report has been lacklustre, at best, so far. I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that faith in public institutions is at rock bottom at the moment. It is of the utmost importance that, as a matter of public service, we ensure that some mistakes can never be made again. If there was foreign interference, it is vital that we establish to what extent, and what measures can be put in place to avoid such an event ever occurring again. We could make a start by banning the hiring out of the Prime Minister for a game of tennis, for example. However, the timing of an inquiry need not necessarily derail the Brexit process.
The next MP to speak is Jack Bereton who is the Conservative MP for Stoke on Trent South and he states the following
The 2016 referendum was the largest expression of democracy in our British history, and the largest mandate of any Parliament in terms of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. The petitioners represent less than 1% of that figure. A Government with a large majority has been elected on a mandate to get Brexit done. We have now left the EU, thankfully, and, at the end of the transition period in January, Brexit will be fully completed.
Now of course he is right that the number of these petitioners which includes me is only a small number. However the fact is there are other details that he should be willing to acknowledge. Earlier in 2019 there was a petition signed by 6.1 million people which also included my signature. That was a call for Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU and so it would also have been helpful for Mike Hill to have acknowledged that. As for the largest expression of democracy, it is a well argued claim that the 2016 Referendum was the largest number of people. However 33.5m people who voted in the referendum represented 72.21% of registered voters and that was certainly the largest number of voters in our history so far. However the largest expression of democracies is based on the proportion of people. The data I have since is based on the 1945 – 2019 General Elections and to be fair the elections since 2001 have been lower than 70% and indeed the previous election in 1997 only involved 71.4% of the voters. However between 1945 and 1992 there was always more than 72% of voters and the only one that fell below 72.7% was in 1970 which was 72% so in fact Jack you are completely wrong. Of course all general elections are based on a number of political parties so none of them get more than 50% of the votes, although every election sees more than 50% voting against the winning party so he is completely wrong!
The next person to speak was Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton and who made a statement that is not a surprise “I have supported the decision to leave the EU in many votes in the House of Commons”. Then Nick Fletcher the Conservative MP of Don Valley stated “Since the 2016 referendum, some members of the political elite have treated 17.4 million people with complete contempt. Large sections of the media and political class actively tried to rob those people of their voice.” As someone who was one of the 16.1m people I would suggest that our views have been treated by contempt from a lot of people so that means all of our nation has been treated by contempt which is why an inquiry is so important.
Finally the first MP who supports those of us who want to remain in the EU was Wera Hobhouse from Bath who is a member of the Liberal Democrats. She said a number of things including “Among the most damaging legacies of Brexit have been the deepening division in our society and an aggressive culture war that seeks to pit people against each other.” The next person was John Howell who is the Henley MP for the Conservatives. Although I did not agree with some of his views his statement that had some serious value was to remind those who want to leave the EU that we need to remain in Europe “There is an organisation in Europe that is far more liberal, in the best sense of the word, and far more open to ideas coming in. That is the Council of Europe. It is also almost twice the size of the EU.” The next person who spoke was Munira Wilson who is the Liberal Democrat for Twickenham. She said the following amongst her other words
I know from the result of the referendum, in which 67% of my residents voted to remain, and the humbling and overwhelming result in my favour in the general election, which was largely fought on Brexit, when the good people of Twickenham, Teddington, Whitton, St Margarets and the Hamptons put their faith in me, that the majority of my residents are pro-European and they want me to give them a voice. That is what I am here to do. It is fair to say that, like me, many are heartbroken that we have left the European Union. They genuinely felt that for economic as well as social and emotional reasons that the UK should remain in the European Union. Many of my constituents are, like me, outward-looking and internationalist in perspective, and have enjoyed the freedoms of being able to live and work in the European Union and fall in love without borders, and simply wished the same opportunities for their children. Of course I accept, with a heavy heart, that we have now left the European Union—I do not deny that the electorate spoke very clearly in December—but I still fundamentally believe that no deal that could be negotiated could be as beneficial as continued membership of the European Union. I am deeply worried about the long-lasting damage that Brexit will cause to this country’s economy and standing in the world.
Then we heard Allan Dorans from Ayr on behalf of the SNP who said “The UK’s departure from the EU looms but questions remain about the legitimacy of the Referendum. The Electoral Commission said illegal overspending occurred during the Referendum. Were the vote/any subsequent political acts affected? Article 50 was triggered. Was the overspend known about then?” The last person to speak before the Minister ended the debate was Paul Blomfield who is the Labour MP for Sheffield Central. Paul said “It is a pleasure to wind up for the Opposition” and he goes on to say “The concerns raised in the petitions probably reflect the time at which they were launched, which was several months ago. The priority now is to look at the challenges that we face with just weeks to go before the deal that we need on our future relationship with the European Union has to be concluded.” The problem with this is that if we can look back as far away as March 2019 and acknowledge that people’s views have changed in 18 months, that we can therefore recognise that a great many people who voted to Leave or Remain have changed their views in the last 52 months. In addition to this there are many people who voted to Leave or Remain who have now died and there are many millions of people who were prevented from voting in June 2016 who are about to be forced to Leave, even though they could not vote.
Julia Lopez was the final person to speak as one of the Cabinet Ministers. She finished speaking and then one or two of the other people who had already spoken, finished at 7.25pm so in a 83 minute debate we had a total of 10 MPs speaking and an 11th one as the Chair for the debate. There were 3 who clearly spoke on behalf of the people like me who had signed the first two petitions. My question is why did so few MPs take part and what happened to the other MPs who do support our argument that we should remain in the EU.