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What does Brexit mean? Once we know, the people must have a vote on it

November 12, 2016 3:30 PM
By Tim Farron in The Guardian
Originally published by High Peak Liberal Democrats

Tim Farron Lib Dem Europe PlanThe Lib Dems are clear: the government cannot negotiate in secret - it must tell the public the terms of the deal it strikes and hold a second referendum

As leader of the Liberal Democrats, I have been clear that what started with democracy in June cannot end with a stitch-up. The government is determined to prevent any scrutiny of its plans, cook up a deal between Brussels and Westminster bureaucrats and foist it upon the country - a plan that no one will have voted for.

People are clearly worried about the government's plans. No one has an idea of even its vaguest intention. For example, will it try to keep Britain in the single market, which is crucial to our economy?

It does not matter which side of this debate you were on. Whether you voted leave or remain, you deserve the right to have a say on what happens next, and the Lib Dems will fight to give that to you.

That's why, unless the government backs our plan to give the public a say, we will vote against triggering article 50. We want a guarantee that there will be a referendum on the deal at the end of the negotiations, when people can vote for that deal or to remain in Europe.

To those who say that our plans are undemocratic, I say: what could be more democratic than giving people a vote?

David Cameron's government did not lay out plans for what Brexit would look like. The various leave campaigns did not set out one plan for what Brexit would look like. The leave campaign during the referendum set out plans for spending another £350m a week on the NHS, in the event of Brexit - which Theresa May has now admitted won't happen.

May did not set out plans in her leadership campaign for what Brexit would look like. She has not been elected as prime minister on the basis of any plans at all, let alone about Brexit. The government to this day has not even given the lightest pencil-sketch of an idea of what Brexit would look like. And on top of all that, it is appealing against a high court ruling in order to stop MPs having any scrutiny on the direction Brexit takes - whatever that may be.

Since nobody has set out what Brexit would look like, and nobody - neither MPs nor the public - has had a say on what should come next, how is it undemocratic to demand that people should be given a say? Those who want to railroad through a plan without guaranteeing the people a say are the ones pursuing an undemocratic path.

The referendum starkly divided our country - 52% of people voted to leave, 48% to remain. We all must have a say on our next step.

This Conservative-Brexit government seems to have set off along a path that could lead to "hard Brexit", which would cost Britain dearly. That is why Lib Dems will also seek to amend the government's plans to ensure membership of the single market becomes part of its negotiation plans.

The single market is a British invention that creates the framework in which tariff-free trade is conducted, and is crucial for jobs, investment and planning.

Too much of Cameron's handling of this issue was trying to unite a divided Conservative party. It is now critical that the government puts aside narrow party interest.

For these reasons, the only circumstances in which the Lib Dems could vote for article 50 is if any such vote includes an explicit guarantee to put the direction of Brexit back into the hands of the people through a referendum on the deal. We trusted people to vote for departure. Now we must also trust people to vote for a destination