We represent completely different constituencies. Hove and Portslade on the south coast voted 70 per cent Remain in the 2016 EU referendum. In Sedgefield, in County Durham, the result was 60 per cent Leave. One a seaside resort; the other a former coal mining but still a heavily industrial area. One a marginal seat; the other steeped in the Labour tradition. Where we represent is also our home and we care deeply about the prospects of those around us.
For us to continue to promote the interests of our constituents, it is obvious to us we must move beyond the Brexit paralysis engulfing parliament and our country. The pursuit of compromise is now the top priority if we are to retain the integrity of our parliamentary democracy and unblock the Brexit log jam. If we do not achieve this, Brexit will continue to numb our senses to all else because to say “just get on with it” isn’t enough.
However, we believe there is a way through this stage of the Brexit morass.
The result of the 2016 EU referendum set parliament a challenge. How to translate the answer to the question asked into a workable Brexit? Will the Brexit devised since then match the promises made?
After two years of negotiation, the prime minister has brought before the House of Commons a plan to leave the EU. The proposed withdrawal agreement is, to say the least, controversial. Particularly within the Conservative Party. But the prime minister’s deal, in whatever form it eventually takes, will define Brexit. The question remains, however: is it what was promised?
Even if parliament decides it was, we believe that to leave the decision to 650 MPs and the unelected House of Lords smacks of the accusation of elitism levelled against politicians during the referendum campaign. The right and proper step to take is for MPs and the Lords to approve the prime minister’s deal followed by a confirmatory vote of the British people.
We believe this process started with the people and should end with the people.
Our grave concern is that, if the withdrawal agreement does not win parliamentary approval and we are faced with a no-deal Brexit – something parliament has also voted against – the prospects would be economically and politically dire. It would also be reckless to accept the withdrawal agreement without the approval of the British people.
There would be recriminations for years to come if people thought they were taken on a journey they did not desire or endorse, because the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the subsequent negotiations on the future relationship with the EU will not be the end of Brexit but only the beginning. At the same time, the unilateral revocation of Article 50 by parliament would also quite rightly be seen as a democratic travesty.
Compromise is needed. Therefore, as MPs who campaigned to remain in the EU in 2016, we are prepared to facilitate the passage of the prime minister’s deal through all its stages in parliament if the deal is to be put to the people for a final decision.
There is a precedent for this. The Good Friday Agreement, quite rightly a central concern of the EU withdrawal negotiations, was implemented after a confirmatory vote of the electorate on both sides of the Irish border.
We propose an amendment to the withdrawal agreement making any public vote on the deal legally binding, so the vote would be final. There wouldn’t be the best of three, or even five referendums. Whatever the result, that would be it. Either the withdrawal agreement would be implemented or Article 50 revoked.
The question posed would be a choice between the withdrawal agreement, as passed through both houses of parliament, and membership of the EU on existing terms. Article 50 would need to be extended to accommodate the exercise, but it seems to us that is going to happen anyway.
We have come to the conclusion that facilitating the passage of the withdrawal agreement through parliament would be the best way forward for the country. MPs would also be able to find their own way through the morass. Whether they are Leave or Remain supporters, we should come together in a way that is respectful of their constituents, their beliefs and their parties. Our compromise would also allow them to campaign during a public vote in line with their conscience.
Time is running out and the people should be allowed to have a final say on whether they want to go ahead with Brexit in full possession of the facts – facts that were not available in 2016 because the withdrawal agreement had not been negotiated.
We believe a confirmatory vote would give the British people ownership of the decision, one way or the other. If the people accept the withdrawal agreement and want to pursue Brexit as outlined in the agreement, then so be it. We would accept their decision. Likewise, if they have looked over the precipice and prefer not to jump, that too should be accepted.
The British people may believe Theresa May’s deal is the way forward. They may not. But they need to be asked and we are willing to compromise to find out their answer.
Phil Wilson is Labour MP for Sedgefield and Peter Kyle is Labour MP for Hove and Portslade
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