Many of our politicians – both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are prominent here – are proclaiming that, while we have much to lose and little to gain, ‘Brexit must mean Brexit’ or variants thereof. However wrong they think it was, in some way or other, the 51.9% no vote in June 2016 (37% of the electorate) must be treated as sacrosanct.
Amongst those who expressed this view is my own North Norfolk MP, the LibDem Norman Lamb. As a Labour Party member I have crossed swords with him on many occasions – most notably on student fees – but he has always been courteous. He is an assiduous member and is the sort of person who remembers everyone’s name. He has established a formidable local machine, though it was not mobilised in any way that I could see in the 2016 Referendum. His energy has allowed him to continue to hold on to what, demographically, should be a safe Tory seat. He is however flaky on Europe. Like his local party, he kept a low profile in the 2016 Referendum campaign and was one of two LibDems who, just over a year ago, chose to abstain rather than vote against the Article 50 Bill. He justified his stance in a New European podcast *.
In a careful studio interview, Norman Lamb was a model of politeness. He began by saying that he voted and campaigned for Remain and the result was “A mistake… fuelled by a fairly dishonest campaign”. However he continued by saying that he held ”a basic view in terms of democracy that if you voted in Parliament to hold the referendum… which we did, you can’t just pretend it hasn’t happen. If you actually played through that the consequences for the reaction in the country would be pretty bleak”.
I wrote to Norman Lamb asking him if he would elaborate and, to his credit, received a detailed reply. He said: “The point I was making was that, as I had voted to hold the referendum, I do not feel that I can simply seek to block the outcome of that vote – and that if we were to do that it could create a dangerous divide in the country and the risk of people concluding that their vote had been ignored. I fear that that would undermine democracy and potentially create the conditions for anger to boil over”. Here I must disagree. For my part I cannot envisage local Norfolk pensioner groups grabbing their pitchforks, taking to the barricades, and then marching to London to capture the citadel should the dreadful decision on withdrawal be reversed.
Earlier this month I arranged to see Norman Lamb at one of his regular surgeries. I went with two objectives. First to see if he could encourage the significant number of LibDem North Norfolk District Councillors to develop an agenda to ameliorate the disastrous effects of Brexit on his constituency (see my earlier blog https://wordpress.com/post/leftyoldman.wordpress.com/1040) . My second objective was to persuade him to move away from ‘the people have spoken’ and to display more courage in his convictions. Unsurprisingly I was achieved more progress on the first objective than the second, though he will clearly support a fresh referendum.
The sad truth is that many Parliamentarians are convinced that it is in the UK’s short and long-term interests to remain in both the customs union and the single market, but that would mean saying that the 2016 referendum decision was just plain wrong. While this continues they are obliged to put forward convoluted arguments to justify indefensible positions.
*The podcast can be downloaded on http://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/jeremy-corbyn-brexit-labour-1-5406396.
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