Nick Clegg: Brexiteers are ‘avoiding second referendum because they fear they would lose it’

The former Deputy Prime Minister says voters would be much more alert ‘to the lies and fabrications’ deployed during the first EU referendum campaign 

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 02 May 2017 20:09 BST
Clegg says Labour has ‘forgotten how to do the most basic job of holding the Government to account’
Clegg says Labour has ‘forgotten how to do the most basic job of holding the Government to account’ (Getty)

Brexiteers are avoiding a second referendum on the terms of Brexit because they fear they would fail in convincing the British public to accept a final deal, the former Deputy Prime Minister has said.

During a speech Nick Clegg said voters would be much more alert “to the lies and fabrications” deployed during the EU referendum campaign and that the prospect of Brexit might be “far less appealing” in two years’ time.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats also said he believed that a leaked account of a dinner between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, at Downing Street last week sounded “very plausible”.

“At the end of the day we are dealing with a very complex set of negotiations with 27 other proud, independent governments and parliaments and they are not going to be barked at as if they are officials in the Home Office, which is the way Number 10 clearly runs things these days,” he said.

“You can’t yell ‘jump’ at Europe and expect the rest of Europe to jump on command.”

Speaking at the National Liberal Club in central London he said the Lib Dems will include two commitments in the party’s manifesto, including holding the Conservatives’ “feet to the fire to very end” in securing as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible and to secure a second referendum on the final Brexit deal. He said the Tories don’t want a second referendum, however, as they “fear they would lose it”.

“It is peculiar that Theresa May argues that supporting a referendum on the outcome of the Brexit talks is tantamount to thwarting the will of the people – it does the opposite, by entrenching the supremacy of the people – especially since it is a case made so forcefully in the past by ardent Brexiteers from John Redwood to David Davis,” he said.

“If Brexit is going to be as popular as they argue it will be, they should surely be enthusiasts for a referendum on the final deal?”

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that their refusal to countenance another referendum is because they fear they would lose it, not least since voters will be much more alert to the lies and fabrications so effectively deployed the first time round. It is the same reason that they brought the date of this general election forward: they know that come 2019, the prospect of Brexit might be far less appealing to many people than it appears today.”

In a scathing attack on the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the former Lib Dem leader, who stepped down following the party’s catastrophic results at the last general election, said it was Labour’s fault that Theresa May’s party now have a clear run at “their extreme version of Brexit”.

“An official opposition that has forgotten how to do the most basic job of holding the Government to account does not deserve to be the official opposition,” he added.

His speech comes after he was visibly irritated earlier on Tuesday after presenter Piers Morgan questioned his decision to raise tuition fees despite pledging not do so. Recalling the interview, Mr Clegg described it as a “baptism of fire” for his first major intervention in the general election campaign.

Mr Clegg, who is also the party’s Brexit spokesperson, accused the Conservatives of “hurting the very people who need most help” as the typical household will be £500 worse off this year than in 2016, according to analysis from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Mr Clegg said the collapse in the value of sterling was increasing household bills and prices in shops and would be sharply felt by holidaymakers travelling abroad. “If you’re going on holiday to Spain this summer, everything you pay for in euros, from accommodation to ice cream, will be 17 per cent more expensive than it was two years ago,” he said.

“If you’re going to Florida this summer, it’ll feel like a 23 per cent hike.

“When prices go up and wages do not, that can only mean one thing: millions of people are going to be poorer. Our standard of living will be lower.”

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