I support a Final Say on the Brexit deal, but it won’t resolve our divisions on national identity

But how could we ever progress in this sense when politicians are not setting an example?

Ann Coffey
Saturday 23 February 2019 17:43
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Conservative MP Andrew Percy says dozens' of Tory MPs could defy the government by backing no-deal Brexit amendment

It is obvious that only a People’s Vote on the deal can resolve the impasse in parliament. Another referendum, however, will not resolve the divided views on our national identity.

As an MP I have witnessed this division first hand. I conducted a survey of my constituents shortly after the referendum in 2016 and another two years later.

The most recent survey showed 83 per cent of 25- to 49-year-olds felt there should be a public vote on the deal with an option to remain, compared with 50 per cent of those aged 64 plus. Of those who voted to leave, around a fifth would now either vote to remain or are undecided, with those in the 25 to 49 age bracket being most likely to have changed their minds.

The issue of sovereignty and what it means to be British, which was so important in the 1975 referendum, continued to run as a strong thread in the replies to both my 2016 and 2018 surveys.

The latest survey contained many opposing views: “As a sovereign nation, I want the UK to remain in a community and work together to share information and provide mutual support.” Or conversely, “We want our country back, our sovereignty [and] our laws.”

But how could we ever progress in this sense when politicians are not setting an example? One of the saddest aspects of this long debate following the results of the referendum is the failure of the major parties to get beyond their narrow party interests, largely due to our adversarial political system. In addition, we have two leaders who are very ill-fitted to the task of cross-party cooperation at a time when it is so desperately needed. And that is also the conclusion the public has come to.

At the moment we are waiting to hear what further concessions Theresa May has gained from Europe. It might be enough to satisfy the DUP and get her MPs’ support. On the other hand it might not be enough, because those who believe that leaving with a no deal ensures a complete break with Europe might still oppose the new arrangement in parliament.

It will be clearer next week.

That will also be a moment for the opposition. Do they oppose the deal and help to defeat it with the European Research Group extremists or do they abstain and let it through?

Although I support a Final Say referendum, timing is important. The argument has long been that the time is not right for asking parliament to vote for another referendum.

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A short extension to Article 50 would give us more time but would still leave unresolved the issue of what deal parliament would support.

In my view, we need parliament to vote on giving the public a Final Say on the options for a deal, including to remain. We are running out of time. Depending on the result of that vote we can then focus on avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

The issue of the divisions over our national identity will not be resolved whatever happens. That is perhaps an even greater challenge to come.

Ann Coffey, with others, formed the Independent Group of MPs after being a Labour MP for Stockport since 1992

For more details about the Put It To The People march – and to sign up – please visit https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march

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