Ed Miliband fired the first official shot in his quixotic personal war to derail Theresa May’s “hard Brexit” plan today.
Speaking from the backbenches, the former Labour leader stood up in the House of Commons and demanded that parliament have a vote on the Brexit package being prepared by the government before Article 50 is triggered.
And he hinted at the outcome — that prime minister Theresa May would not be able to get a Brexit bill through the House of Commons if she were to dare try it.
Miliband’s speech was the first official shot fired by a small group of MPs who believe the best way to avoid a “hard Brexit” is to somehow force May to put the issue to the House of Commons. Because there is a solid majority in the House that favours Remain, and because May’s majority is officially only 12 seats, a vote in the Commons offers Britain’s last, best hope for somehow staying in the EU.
Miliband began his speech by framing it as a proposal that parliament ought to have some say on what, exactly, May is going to propose to the EU as the conditions under which the UK will leave.”We should accept the result of the referendum,” he said, but “I believe that nothing less than a vote on the government’s negotiating strategy before the commencement of those negotiations will do.”
However, he added, “we should do everything we can to stay members of the Single Market and seek adjustment to the freedom of movement.”
May does not dare let the House vote on a package that doesn’t include the Single Market, Miliband argued, because “the government doesn’t like the answer they will get if they ask the question of the consent of this House … they don’t believe there is a majority for ‘hard Brexit’ in the House of Commons so the thing they are desperate at all costs to not get is the consent of this House.”
And if the House did not give its consent for May to proceed with Article 50? “That is tough! They need the consent of this House …. there is no mandate from the referendum [for hard Brexit], … [and] no mandate from the prime minister who was a remainer.”
The unanswered question here is whether Miliband is sincere in his belief that the referendum should be respected or whether he is using the technicality of parliamentary consent as a convenient spoiler that might stop Brexit dead in its tracks.
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