Brexit: MPs vote against giving public fresh referendum on EU withdrawal
Commons rejects Final Say amendment after Labour leadership and MPs who back fresh public vote insist ‘now is not the time’
MPs have voted against giving the public a fresh Brexit referendum, rejecting a motion that would have triggered a Final Say vote.
The Commons divided 334 to 85 against the amendment, which was put forward by the Independent Group’s Sarah Wollaston – a majority of 249.
The motion, voted on during a debate on delaying Brexit, demanded that Theresa May postpone Britain’s exit from the EU “for the purposes of legislating for and conducting a public vote in which the people of the United Kingdom may give their consent” for either leaving the EU on the terms of a deal agreed by parliament or remaining in the bloc.
It was the first time that MPs have formally voted on whether to give the public a Final Say vote on Brexit. Several Labour front-benchers resigned after registering votes on the motion instead of abstaining.
Ms Wollaston’s motion was backed by MPs from Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Independent Group.
But her decision to force a vote on the amendment angered many other pro-referendum MPs, who had wanted to wait until it had more chance of being passed.
The defeat came after Labour ordered its MPs to abstain on the vote and dozens of other MPs who support another referendum also abstained, insisting now was not the right time to push the motion.
Labour has said it would support a public vote to stop “a damaging Tory Brexit” or a no-deal outcome but whipped its MPs not to support Ms Wollaston’s motion.
Explaining the decision in the Commons, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “Today is about the question of whether Article 50 should be extended and whether we can find a purpose.
“Many colleagues in and out of this place absolutely supportive of the cause of a People’s Vote vehemently disagree with this amendment being tabled and voted on today.”
He added: “Those pressing this amendment seem to be out of step with the vast majority of co-campaigners who are campaigning for exactly the same cause. They may genuinely have a difference of opinion but we will not be supporting [amendment] H tonight.”
Defying party orders, 25 Labour MPs voted for Ms Wollaston’s motion, while 18 broke ranks to vote against it. Shadow ministers Yvonne Fovargue, Emma Lewell-Buck and Justin Madders, whip Stephanie Peacock and parliamentary private secretary Ruth Smeeth all resigned over the issue.
Dozens more of the party’s MPs who support a People’s Vote also refused to back the proposal.
In a statement explaining their decision to abstain, more than 30 of them said they were instead waiting to back a different amendment, being drawn up by Labour backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, that would see parliament withhold support for Theresa May’s Brexit deal until she put it to a public vote.
They said: “We are all deeply committed to securing a People’s Vote. But to win that vote, we need to win a vote in the House of Commons. The best chance of that is via the so-called Kyle/Wilson amendment, which isn’t being voted on today.”
The group, which included Mr Kyle and Mr Wilson, said they were abstaining “because we know amendment H won’t pass today and we need to bring colleagues who have concerns about a People’s Vote with us as we move towards voting for Kyle/Wilson”, adding: “We will have the opportunity to vote for Kyle/Wilson and secure a People’s Vote within a matter of days.”
They continued: “Some of us have campaigned for a People’s Vote before the campaign even came into existence. Many of us have broken our party whips to get us this far.
“We hope our supporters outside the House of Commons today trust our political judgement so that, together, we can win the votes required to secure the People’s Vote we all want.”
A spokesperson for the People’s Vote campaign said: “We do not think today is the right time to test the will of the house on the case for a new public vote. Instead, this is the time for parliament to declare it wants an extension of Article 50 so that, after two and a half years of vexed negotiations, our political leaders can finally decide on what Brexit means.”
But Ms Wollaston insisted she was pushing ahead with her plan, telling the Commons: “There are many in this chamber who have made the point that now is not the time, that we should do this later.
“But I’m afraid it has been a bit like waiting for Godot – I’m afraid now will never be the time. We are now just 15 days from falling off the cliff.”
Urging Labour MPs to join her, she said: “There was a clear promise to move to support a People’s Vote and it is simply no good to keep backtracking on it. This is the time to vote for it today. It may fail – I accept that – but there is nothing to stop us bringing it back and voting for it again.
“I’m afraid the chances are the Labour front bench will never move to a position of wholeheartedly and unequivocally supporting a People’s Vote unless there is some significant pressure to do so.”
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