Lib Dems accused of ‘giving up’ on Final Say referendum after claiming MPs will never vote for it

Jo Swinson’s party faces cross-party backlash after dramatic switch to backing pre-Christmas general election instead

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 27 October 2019 19:50 GMT
Chuka Umunna: 'The only way we can stop Brexit in this Parliament is through a People’s Vote'

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The Liberal Democrats have been accused of “giving up” on securing a Final Say referendum on Brexit, after claiming MPs will never vote for it.

Jo Swinson’s party faced a cross-party backlash after a dramatic switch to backing a pre-Christmas general election – rather than a fresh public vote – to settle the Brexit crisis.

Chuka Umunna then claimed it was “quite clear” there was little prospect of the Commons backing a referendum – despite ongoing plans to attach an amendment to Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Sian Berry, the co-leader of the Green Party, said: “A million people didn’t march last weekend for a general election – they wanted a people’s vote.”

Guto Bebb, a former Conservative minister, now sitting as an independent, said a referendum was still the “best, most democratic, way to solve this crisis and provide a lasting settlement”.

“MPs should not be bounced into an election before we’ve some straight answers from Boris Johnson about what he’s really up to,” he argued.

And John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said on Twitter: “The Lib Dems & SNP may have given up on a People’s Vote. We haven’t.

“It’s the only way to resolve this issue and stand any chance of bringing country back together.”

The attack came despite it being Jeremy Corbyn’s official policy – if not most of his party’s – to push for a general election before a second referendum.

It followed Mr Umunna defending the switch by telling Sky News: “The only way we can stop Brexit in this parliament is through a people’s vote, referring this issue back to the people.

“But it is quite clear now that it’s highly unlikely that, in this current parliament, we are going to be able to achieve that.

“We’ve put down 17 amendments in this parliament to provide for a people’s vote, we’ve voted for it seven times which is the number of times it’s been put before parliament – and we’ve never hit the numbers.”

Nevertheless, Final Say supporters at Westminster still believe sufficient Tory MPs, and former Tories, could swing behind a referendum in the crisis that would follow a rejection of Mr Johnson’s deal.

Although the Withdrawal Agreement Bill cleared its first hurdle in the Commons, it awaits detailed scrutiny and attempted amendments which could yet defeat it.

For that reason, the prime minister “paused” the bill and demanded a pre-Christmas election – with the Lib Dems and SNP now pushing for it to be held on 9 December.

The Independent’s Final Say campaign has attracted 1.3 million signatures in favour of a referendum, leading to last weekend’s huge march on Parliament Square.

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