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Government rattled as People’s Vote fervour seizes fringe

by Nick Kent | 01.10.2018

Birmingham: It felt like an evangelist meeting. The room so full that it overflowed into the corridor outside. Speakers chock full of passion. An audience hanging on their every word. Thunderous applause when a point hit home. But this was no meeting of religious fanatics. It was the meeting of Conservatives for a People’s Vote on the fringe of the party conference in Birmingham this lunchtime.

It’s little wonder the pro-Brexit party leadership, fast running out of answers, seems so rattled by the momentum behind this movement. They even banned the inclusion of this meeting in the official fringe guide.

At a conference where the sharp suits and slick smiles of the lobbyists abound, this political meeting felt authentic. The audience were ordinary party members, travelling in from across the country, not just the Remain-voting areas like London, who had come to hear an argument.

Neil Carmichael, who lost his marginal seat of Stroud in Theresa May’s disastrous 2017 general election, spoke with fervour about Parliament’s decision on Brexit this autumn being of “seismic importance” and one that could not be done “without at least consulting the people”. In short, he believed that holding a People’s Vote was essential to give legitimacy to the Brexit outcome.

Former minister Phillip Lee, who resigned from the government in June over Brexit, said that for him the problem was the Brexit deal would be a fudge – neither a full Brexit nor a full Remain; neither side would get what they voted for. He warned the party that in pushing through Brexit it was now on the side of the angry men and not of women or young people.

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Anna Soubry said that it was as business minister that she realised “we had made a terrible mistake” in 2016 because Brexit would be a disaster for our economy and for peace in Northern Ireland. She noted that it was Leave voters who were now saying that we need a People’s Vote.

Justine Greening said she was a pragmatist on Europe who hadn’t come into politics to talk about Brexit. She backed a people’s vote because she couldn’t see any other way out. The issue hadn’t been settled because the Brexiters were still arguing about what Brexit means.

For all the speakers, the enormity of the decision that Parliament has to take was a major factor. Greening said that this was an issue that was above party politics. Carmichael told his former parliamentary colleagues that they must say “the country’s future is more important than my own”.

Back in the conference centre, Brexit hangs over the party like a winter fog. Even the diehard Brexiters are nervous now. The threat posed by the momentum for a People’s Vote could be heard in the Brexit secretary’s over-the-top attack on its supporters. Astonishingly, he claimed that “there was a real sense that Leave won fair and square” in 2016 and that it was influential establishment figures who were now trying to overturn the vote.

What today’s meeting showed was that pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party have shed their inhibitions. There was a passion and energy in that packed room that should make their party leadership think again. Far from trying to ban the supporters of a People’s Vote from being heard, the prime minister should embrace their message. It is only way to save her divided party.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

10 Responses to “Government rattled as People’s Vote fervour seizes fringe”

  • How can any reasonable person claim that the public knew what they were voting for when the two main political parties cannot agree what Brexit meant?

    We do know there were lies told about the NHS, electoral law broken by Vote Leave and probable interference from a foreign power i.e. Russia. Despite all this, the result was extremely close.

    Since 2016, much of the dishonesty has been revealed and a new swathe of young voters have reached voting age. In a recent poll on a Leave site, where almost 1 million people voted, 63% said that given what they now know, they would vote to remain in the EU.

    Democracy demands another referendum with the option to remain in the EU..

  • How can any reasonable person claim that the public knew what they were voting for when the two main political parties cannot agree what Brexit meant?

    We do know there were lies told about the NHS, electoral law broken by Vote Leave and probable interference from a foreign power i.e. Russia. Despite all this, the result was extremely close.

    Since 2016, much of the dishonesty has been exposed and a new swathe of young voters have reached voting age. In a recent poll on a Leave site, where almost 1 million people voted, 63% said that given what they now know, they would vote to remain in the EU.

    Democracy demands another referendum with the option to remain in the EU..

  • Note carefully how the bias is changing. Now we see openly abusive comments (Hunt,Johnson) aimed at rattling the EU and making them less amenable to offering a good deal. Remember that ALL speeches are submitted , read and passed BEFORE a minister gets to his feet. EVERY abusive and racist remark will have been sanctioned somewhere up the Tory food chain.
    The intention is to create an open hostility to the EU so that it can be *blamed* when we descend into catastrophic no deal status. I have seen exactly the same methodology pursued locally here. Note the headlines are now referrring to the EU as imprisoning us, choking us etc. People, read the signs.

  • Good that pro- Europeans in the Conservatives are getting organised, but it will all count for nothing if they vote with the Government on the key parliamentary motions. Much as Dominic Grieve made some good speeches on the Single Market and Customs Union, he caved in when pressure was put on him by the party whips. And other MPs with him.

  • There was more doublespeak from the PM this morning on the Today programme. It appears that the Irish backstop has now morphed into a guarantee to the people of NI that there will be no border in the Irish Sea. Somehow I don’t think that’s what the EU thinks it means. Humpty Dumpty? I seem to remember he had a great fall.

  • The only people to benefit from Brexit are the ones that have manipulated the 2016 Referendum to leave the the EU by there lies and illegal expenditure
    In the leave campaign.I
    The rest of us out here suffer because of them.
    They control the papers and the TV news, you can’t trust the Andrew Mar show nor Peston on Sunday because they give a staged and false show.
    The nasty party do not care about the NHS because they all go private .
    If they can privatise something they will to get the dividends on the shares.
    Who can afford a railway ticket now .

  • Some of the Brexit supporters are enough to make any reasonable person want to vote Remain. They pretend to care for Britain but in fact are often greedy, self seeking and disimulating. Others are zenophobic if not out and out racists.

  • The Northern Ireland question is inadequately addressed in the overall narrative and yet it is the bedrock of dissent as well as an article of faith for the ultra-Brexiteers. The DUP agreement with the May government is an albatross on a consensus with the 56% remain majority in NI and it perceives a reinforced Union as a counterweight to a promised poll on the constitutional status of NI. Theresa May will have to choose between a seamless market for goods and services (eg London as a Euro financial centre) and the narrow sectarian interests of a Luddite anti-diluvian interest group.

  • Dear Stuart, thank you for your reply!

    I agree totally with your argumentation.

    What you can do is to try to convince as many neighbours, friends etc. as possible.

    It ist very simple: In 2030 there will be 10,000,000,000 people on this planet. 10 Billions!

    Percentage of Europe: 5 [%].

    It is very clear, that the influence of a United Europe will be very small. Not to mention any nation-state influence.

    The choice is: Brexit and the secure downfall and slavery for all the Brexit Children, or immediate Exit of Brexit.

    But: I don’t think, that Brexit will occur. Shortly before March 2019, the Brexit-Moron May will resign and declare: We didn’t get the Brexit together.

    Herzliche Grüße

    Werner