“This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.”
That was the promise made by the Cameron government in May 2016 in their £8.5 million leaflet sent to every household in the land before the public voted to leave the European Union.
It came as a surprise to the government that the public saw through its threats and decided to leave; the promise must now be fulfilled to implement that decision.
Yesterday saw MPs voting on the first set of amendments that came back from the House of Lords on the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Readers will be aware of the huge attention that has followed this as the House of Lords tried to change the Bill as much as possible to weaken the government’s plans for Brexit, with the hope of overturning the referendum result altogether.
While moneyed interests try to stoke public opinion towards a second referendum, huge numbers of Lords, who were not obliged to declare their EU-dependent pensions and other interests, tried to kill the will of the people by a thousand cuts.
Chief among these was the attempt to require a so-called “meaningful vote”.
Of course, the real meaningful vote has already been taken – by the people.
They have instructed us to leave the EU, and we should now do this.
The Lords were not satisfied with this, however. They wanted to engineer a further vote on the deal negotiated by the government, opening the prospect of the government being told to return to the negotiating tables by dissatisfied MPs — but naturally this would incentivise EU negotiators to offer as bad a deal as possible to undermine our prospects of leaving.
In his later years, Labour’s Clement Attlee, a lifelong Eurosceptic, argued that those who wished to join the Common Market did so on ‘largely based on defeatism’.
But, Attlee believed, ‘that is no way to go into a negotiation. You ought to go in on the basis that they have need of you, not just you of them’.
Our ability to walk away with no deal is the best hope at ensuring that the EU delivers on a mutually beneficial deal.
Any vote on our deal ought to be between accepting it and leaving with no deal at all.
Amendment 19, however, promised MPs not only a say on the deal but also a say on what would happen if the deal was rejected.
Supporters cloaked this amendment in the tapestry of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’, but their intentions were far from it.
Instead, they hoped that MPs could use a vote against a deal as a means to delay Brexit, perhaps indefinitely.
The United Kingdom could be left in a perpetual ‘transition’ position, with even less say over the rules affecting our lives now.
Far from restoring power to the UK Parliament, these MPs were engineering a way for the EU Commission to maintain control long after voters across the UK voted to ‘take back control’ of our laws, money, and trade.
This poison-pill amendment from the unelected Lords showed that too many politicians are not acting in good faith, looking to magnify every obstacle rather than working to reassure and unify the country behind a credible and lasting exit from the EU.
In the end the government yesterday won every vote helped by a sizeable number of Labour votes and abstentions — around a dozen.
The path to Leave is still a rocky one but one of the biggest blocks has now been cleared.
• Kate Hoey, who was born in Northern Ireland, is Labour MP for Vauxhall