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Theresa May's Chequers deal is already dead. Here's my plan for a Final Say referendum – and why it's better than the prime minister's

I’ve lost count of the number of MPs, including senior ministers, who have approached me to tell me that I was right to call for a second referendum. There’s more support in parliament than people think

Justine Greening
Thursday 02 August 2018 10:19 BST
Justine Greening: Government is 'gridlocked' over Brexit

My intervention two weeks ago set out a practical solution to Britain’s Brexit deadlock, saying we need a fair and clear choice for the public in a referendum on our future relationship with the EU. It has generated an overwhelming response. My solution is simple. With the prime minister’s deal now set out and alternate plans for no deal being drawn up, it is time to put that final decision on our future into the hands of people. It is time to allow them to choose from the three paths ahead facing us a country: Theresa May’s deal; leaving with no deal at all; or remaining in the EU.

During the last full week that parliament was sitting I lost count of the number of MPs, including senior ministers, who came up to me to tell me that I was right to call it out. To say that parliament was at an impasse and the only way to break that was with a referendum on the way ahead. These MPs wouldn’t say this publicly – yet. But I suspect they will eventually because they see what I see: stalemate.

A parliament that works on party political lines has failed to deal with a Brexit that cuts across all of that. Brexit has been the parliamentary equivalent of putting diesel into an unleaded car: it’s broken the engine. The result of that is that our parliamentary democracy is rapidly approaching a crisis unless we find a way to deal with this.

Britain deserves better than the political class putting its collective head in the sand at such a crucial time in our country’s history. The Chequers deal is a fudge. It leaves us neither in nor out of the EU and it’s not the only halfway house option out there either. It solves nothing other than allowing today’s political class to unacceptably kick the can down the road. The real Brexit legacy of the Chequers deal will be a disastrous decade of continuing division, with few people feeling they have the outcome they voted for and the political instability that brings.

With polling showing just 11 per cent of people backing the Chequers deal, we know this is a time for decisiveness not fudge, a time for a clear direction forward not a halfway house going nowhere. I believe we need to resolve the Brexit impasse so that the years ahead, the money, the political focus can be spent tackling the other major, deep rooted issues that Britain faces, not least finally creating a country with equality of opportunity. If parliament isn’t capable of making those choices, then the people must have the ability to break parliament’s impasse and take the decision for themselves in a referendum.

In my proposed approach, people get their say on the three practical routes ahead: Chequers deal; no deal; or Remain. I have made it clear people should get two votes, so if their first choice option gets the fewest votes and drops out, then they have still also have a vote and a say on which of the remaining two options left they’d prefer. It’s how we elect mayors up and down the country, and it’s a tried and tested approach that gives the best chance of delivering a consensus.

The difficult truth is that the prime minister’s Chequers deal is already dead. It’s time we stopped pretending otherwise. It doesn’t have the support of the public, my party or even those ministers who spent two years negotiating on behalf of Britain. Parliament is at stalemate and the sooner we deal with it the better. The prime minister should finish her EU negotiations, but it’s inconceivable that in our democracy any government could then believe it was sensible or right to press ahead with its route on Brexit without knowing it had clear public support, especially when all the indications are that it does not.

Yet as things stand that is what is proposed. It is an unacceptable state of affairs and must change. All MPs will have to make their own minds up about the right course of action on Brexit but I’ve made mine up. We must let the British people have the final say on Brexit and decide our country’s future. A referendum on the final deal is the only responsible course ahead.

Justine Greening is a Conservative MP and was secretary of state for education from 2016 to January 2018

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