After spending months campaigning for the Remain side, I was distressed by the decision of the British people to vote to leave the European Union. Throughout the campaign, I argued strongly that leaving the EU would leave Britain a poorer country and diminish our influence on the world stage. This remains my view, and I deeply regret the situation we now find ourselves in. However, I accept the outcome of the referendum.
The British people voted for departure but they did not vote for a destination. I totally support the demand for a referendum on the terms of the final negotiated deal, to give people the chance to approve or reject the deal and ensure that the final deal has a democratic mandate.
I fully believe that Remain voters and politicians across all parties must play a key role in influencing negotiations, to ensure that we avoid the damage to the economy and the country’s international status that a Hard Brexit would bring. My personal preference is for the Government to fight for full access to, and preferably membership of, the Single Market, and I will continue, alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to seek to achieve this. I continue to give my full support to Open Britain’s campaign “to keep Britain tolerant, inclusive and open to Europe and the world”.
The Liberal Democrats are united in our opposition to a damaging hard Brexit, united on the Single Market, and united in our determination to make sure the British people have the final say over the final Brexit deal. I fully support our leader Tim Farron and my colleagues inside and outside parliament in campaigning for these outcomes.
However, I have already committed, in public, not to block the triggering of Article 50. It’s no secret that I have an honest disagreement with the party’s position to vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless the Government guarantees a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal. Given the vote of the British people on June 23rd, I am not prepared to vote to block the triggering of Article 50 when the bill is brought before Parliament.
Irrespective of my views of the outcome of the referendum, there is a democratic principle at stake, and I feel very strongly about this. When we voted to hold the referendum, we did not set out any preconditions for triggering Article 50, in the event of a vote to leave the EU. I do not see how we can introduce them now. I have therefore made the difficult decision to abstain on this vote.
I will continue to fight, alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, for a Britain which is open, tolerant and inclusive, standing tall in Europe and the rest of the world.