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28 January 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 4:13pm

Parliament has already betrayed voters over Brexit. All we can do now is be honest

The first referendum was itself of a betrayal. It can only be resolved by going back to the country again, says Anna Turley. 

By Anna Turley

The mood in Westminster this week has been bleak. MPs from all parties, whether Leavers or Remainers, and with every conceivable position on Brexit, all have one thing in common; they are getting a large number of frustrated and angry messages from constituents and many are receiving increasing amounts of abuse.

This shows the dilemma of the 2016 Brexit referendum – such a simple question allowed people to project all their fears, anger, hopes and fantasies onto a binary question and the result can be interpreted to mean many different things to many different people. The consequence of this means that every single option proposed will result in cries of “betrayal” by those who do not get the version of Brexit that was in their mind when they voted, or even the version that they have developed subsequently over the last two and a half years.

This narrative of betrayal is toxic and needs to be confronted with honesty and courage. MPs need to acknowledge that whatever version of Brexit that comes out the other side of the parliamentary mangle will disappoint, upset and even anger people. Whatever we do risks losing votes and possibly even seats for all parties.

This is why we need to be brave and tell the truth. The betrayal of the British people has already happened.

The betrayal was to give people a vague and simplistic decision to make, with insufficient information and which was not honest about the real choices facing our country or the complexity of our economic integration with the European Union.

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The betrayal was rooted in the lies and the fantasy promises that were told with no intention of being kept, like those on the side of a bus.

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The betrayal was the exploitation of justifiable grievances of left-behind areas and working class communities for political ends.

The betrayal was the legitimatisation of prejudice, hatred and division during that debate.

The betrayal was not to be honest that major constitutional changes like this should not be put forward to the public unless the work had been done to prepare for them.

And all this before we have even had a proper inquiry into the law-breaking.

We all owe the public an apology for that referendum, not just David Cameron, sat with his trotters up. But instead, the betrayal has continued ever since. Rather than being honest with the public and confronting the mistakes and admitting the referendum was flawed, we have sought to continue this deception rather than face up to our historic error.

“No deal is better than a bad deal” was not only not true but was a deeply irresponsible and reckless statement from a prime minister, and has allowed the catastrophe of leaving the largest single market in the world without a deal to have become accepted as a legitimate Brexit option.

Right-wing MPs like Boris Johnson have continued to talk up no deal as an option despite claiming during the referendum that the UK would “still have access to the single market”.

And the likes of Liam Fox and David Davis promised negotiations with the EU “one of the easiest in human history” and we could have “the exact same benefits” of staying in.

As the Prime Minister boasts that her deal will “get control of our borders”, she fails to mention the likelihood of increased immigration forming a key plank of our future trade deals.

No wonder the public call “betrayal” when they are not getting the things they have been promised, or when responsible politicians step in try to stop the carnage.

For this is the ultimate Brexit bind. The further away we are from Europe and the more abrupt our break, the worse it is for our economy, particularly for those areas who voted most strongly to leave. Yet the closer we remain to the EU – with a Norway Plus or soft-Brexit option the more we concede British sovereignty and dilute ‘the will of the people’, which his hardening now among many leavers for a no-deal Brexit. No one will be getting what they were promised.

All we are doing is continuing to betray the public because we are continuing to fail to be honest with them about the reality of our situation. And we are telling them that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this because it is what they wanted two and a half years ago. Denying them the right to change their mind or have their say on the outcome now the evidence is clearer is the real betrayal.

A new referendum or a vote to ratify a deal with the option to remain must be put to the people in the cold light of day. We should be brave enough do the right thing, not keep continuing the deceit that we will be able to please any of the public with a Brexit outcome. Parliament needs to come clean that we have made a catastrophic mess and give the public the chance to help us clean it up.