Voices /
Final Say

We now know a people’s vote has cross-party support

My amendment lost on Wednesday – but I never thought it would win
(AFP)

Wednesday night saw two important and positive things emerge from the “indicative votes” on Brexit in parliament.

Firstly, we showed that the Labour Party was able to unite around my compromise motion – which built on the huge effort made by my colleagues Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle – that we should insist that any Brexit deal is put back to the people for ratification. The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs, more than 80 per cent of my colleagues, voted for this proposal.

Secondly, we showed that this idea truly has cross-party appeal. On top of the 198 Labour MPs who backed it, it picked up another 70 supporters from across the Commons – winning support in each of the regions and countries of the UK and from all parties except the DUP. Despite this, it didn’t win. But then, I never expected that it would.

The purpose of yesterday was not to find the silver bullet that would instantly solve the Brexit crisis, but to look for the ideas that could, after we’d discussed and debated them further, emerge as the way out. And my motion was not even about what sort of Brexit we should have. It was not about another Brexit option, but about exploring a solution that can finally settle the question.

My personal view is that, now that we know so much more about the costs, risks and harm that follow from Brexit, we would be better off making a decision to stay as members of the EU.

Will it be a hard and painful Brexit May’s successor will seek? Or a soft and pointless exit? Once that is clear we must put this decision back to the people

But I recognise others may still prefer to leave, even though the damage that would do is becoming increasingly clear. That is their right. But it is also essential we know just what any Brexit deal they do back will mean for our future, because it is now very clear that many, if not most, promises that were made in the referendum campaign cannot be met.

That is why the process that began yesterday should result in parliament mandating the government to demand a longer extension of the Brexit deadline so that any new deal can be properly negotiated and scrutinised.

We need to know just what is on offer for the long term, especially as Theresa May is now in the twilight of her premiership: will it be a hard and painful Brexit her successor will seek? Or a soft and pointless exit? Once that is clear we must put this decision back to the people.

Opting for a long extension will mean fighting the European elections. To be perfectly honest, I have always struggled to understand why this has ever been seen as some sort of a barrier to properly considering what Brexit will mean for the country. Fighting elections is what we do in this country after all. We even managed to have one while the Second World War was still in progress, so I just don’t see why a debate on Brexit should stop us.

May likes to say we should “just get on with it”. I agree. Let’s get on with preparing and contesting those elections. Let’s get on with deciding, at last, what Brexit should really be about and let’s get on with preparing for a people’s vote on what emerges from that process.

Margaret Beckett is the MP for Derby South