Leading Brexit campaigner says 'vacuous' referendum should never have been called

German-born Gisela Stuart was Labour's most prominent Eurosceptic

Tom Batchelor
Friday 23 June 2017 16:35
Brexit one year on: What happens next?

Leading Brexiteer Gisela Stuart has described the EU referendum an “abuse of democratic process” and said she would rather it had never been called.

The former Labour MP and co-chair of Vote Leave said voters were faced with a “vacuous” choice last June and the handling of the fallout from the poll was “not good democracy”.

She added that she stood by her support for Britain quitting the bloc, but said there was no accountability on either side of the argument once the result had been announced and the campaign groups had disbanded.

Instead, she said she wished voters had been given a say on the Lisbon Treaty.

The extraordinary admission, published in a new book entitled How To Lose A Referendum, comes as senior European leaders insisted the “door remains open” to the UK staying in the EU.

Asked if she thought David Cameron should have called the referendum, Ms Stuart responded: “No. The way he called that referendum was an abuse of democratic processes. It really was. I’ve never gone through a voting process where the losers demand of the winners that they explain themselves.

“This is what happened with the ref­erendum, because you had a binary question.”

In the minority among Labour MPs as a Leave backer, Ms Stuart nonetheless established herself as a high-profile member of the campaign to pull Britain out of the EU.

Gisela Stuart speaks German

She once claimed voting for Brexit was about “defending democracy” and put her name to controversial claims about extra funding for the NHS that have since been quietly dropped.

A year later, as Britain marks a year anniversary since the historic Brexit vote, Ms Stuart sounded less enthusiastic. She said: “You had no bodies accountable for an outcome …This notion that you can create these campaigning groups that aren’t established political parties. Immediately after the referendum with Vote Leave, we resigned as directors and the whole thing was shut down. And that’s not good democracy.”

German-born Ms Stuart was her party’s most prominent Brexit backer and campaigned for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty before it became law in 2009.

“At that moment, we would have had clear questions,” she said, “so it wasn’t a question of one side or the other coming at each other with threats. You would have had a clear body. This is the text – this is what happens now – you can have this or you can have that. But Cameron just threw this vacuous question into the air.”

She added: “I think it was the right decision [to leave]. But given what I was asked [yes or no to the EU] – there was no way I could endorse this. Was I signing up for my membership form for Ukip? No. But essentially what he did – he kind of forced a question – to which I could not say yes.”

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