People have a right to take a different view about leaving the European Union and to make a choice about the Brexit process, Chuka Umunna MP says today.
Speaking at an Open Britain event featuring a keynote speech by Lord John Kerr, former British Permanent Representative to the EU who played an instrumental role in drafting Article 50, Mr Umunna says that: “The Government are telling people that they don’t have a choice, when they do. That, should the facts change during these negotiations, they are not entitled to change their minds.”
Introducing Lord Kerr’s speech, Mr Umunna says: “As more and more of these new facts emerge about the true picture of what our life outside the EU will be like, people are perfectly entitled to take a different view about where we are heading, if they so wish. On this - if nothing else - I agree with David Davis, who said ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.’”
The full text of Chuka Umunna MP’s speech is below:
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“Facts about Brexit have been in short supply from this Government. Hiding their Brexit impact studies from public view; avoiding proper scrutiny in Parliament; peddling myths and slogans rather than being up front about the realities of what leaving the EU will mean for our economy and our country.
“Brexit is clearly far more complicated than anyone realised at the time and there is still a lot to be thrashed out between the UK and the EU. The 2016 referendum was based on hypotheticals; the Brexit negotiations are based on hard headed facts.
“Try as Ministers might to hide from reality, more and more new facts are coming to light every day as the process unfolds. Facts about which no one could have known for sure at the time of the referendum.
“Nobody knew we would be saddled with a divorce bill of tens of billions of pounds; nobody knew that the pound would be devalued to the extent that it has been and cause inflation to rapidly outstrip wages; and, nobody knew Brexit would affect everything from food safety standards to access to medical isotopes used in cancer treatment.
“As more and more of these new facts emerge about the true picture of what our life outside the EU will be like, people are perfectly entitled to take a different view about where we are heading, if they so wish. On this - if nothing else - I agree with David Davis, who said ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.’
“This is not about whether Article 50 should have been triggered. I voted to trigger Article 50 because I believe that the referendum last year gave the Government the right to begin the Brexit negotiations. And I believe it is still too early to judge whether they have delivered in those talks.
“This is about something different. It is about choice. The Government are telling people that they don’t have a choice, when they do. That, should the facts change during these negotiations, they are not entitled to change their minds. When the future direction of the country is at stake, that is completely unacceptable. And we should feel no queasiness in saying so.
“I have no doubt that merely raising this issue of vital importance will be dismissed by some as being anti-democratic. But those who frame it in this way, do so because they fear public argument and scrutiny of what is happening. They are engaged in a deliberate attempt to shut down democratic debate, to muzzle debate - which is irresponsible and wrong.
“The only undemocratic work here is being undertaken by hard Brexit enthusiasts who are deliberately attempting to hoodwink the British people into thinking they have no choice but to go along with something, even if they do not want to.
“It is vital that people have the facts, and that they are not misled. Unfortunately, the facts about the most important issue of all – the Article 50 process – have not so far been heard. The Government made a political decision to tell people that there can be no going back, and they have done so very effectively.
“We recently learned that Ministers have received legal advice indicating that Article 50 can be withdrawn, but they are refusing to publish it.
“Which is why it gives me great pleasure to hand over to Lord Kerr. I know that respecting the views of experts is currently unfashionable, but here is one that I think is well worth listening to. He is not a politician but has served this country with distinction in a number of senior roles.
“John served as Britain’s Permanent Representative to the EU from 1990-1995, as UK Ambassador to the United States from 1995-1997, and as Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office from 1997-2002. And in 2002-2003 he was Secretary-General of the European Constitutional Convention, which drafted Article 50. There is surely nobody better placed to discuss the facts about Article 50, and to shed light and clarity on this most crucial of issues.”