'Right To Vote' campaign launch speech - Dr Phillip Lee MP - Caring for Bracknell Constituency
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‘Right To Vote’ campaign launch speech

At the formal launch of the ‘Right To Vote’, the Conservative home for those who want to give the people the final say on Brexit, the group’s chair Dr Phillip Lee MP gave the following speech:

Today we want to level with people.

The public is sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths – and in some cases, blatant untruths – about Brexit.

They are absolutely fed up with the whole thing and they are looking to us to set out a clear way forward for the country.

So all of us here today agree that it’s time for some straight talking.

It’s time to be brave and tell people the truth, however unpalatable and difficult.

The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead and there’s no use me, or Sarah (Wollaston), attempting to resuscitate it. It’s beyond recovery.

She has spent two-and-a-half years trying to reach an agreement on the UK’s exit from the EU that will command broad support and she has failed.

It’s simply no good tweaking this agreement in a few places and trying again.

And it’s no good telling the public that it isn’t appropriate to give them the final say while insisting that it’s fine for MPs to be asked to vote again and again until the Government gets the answer it wants. 

It’s not true, as some insist, that people just want us to ‘get on with it’, especially not at any cost. I think what people want is swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga so that we can get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

Parliament is deadlocked. There’s no majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement that would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK.

I regret to say that I fear the Government is paying lip service to seeking cross-party agreement, while sticking to the same old red lines. It will go nowhere without a significant change in approach.

The Labour Party will be in no hurry to help my party out of its current difficulties.

So given the paralysis in Parliament, it is now clear that a deal is near impossible, and no responsible Government can proceed with a no deal exit. The implications of that are frankly terrifying.

I recognised months ago that I would not be able to support the course of Brexit for the country I love, and called for more time by extending Article 50 and for the people to be given the opportunity to give their informed consent to proceed with Brexit, or not.

I resigned into what was something of a void.

I’m glad to say that since then, a number of my brave and principled colleagues have also looked to their consciences and joined me in leaving the government to campaign for a referendum.

We’ve been called traitors and saboteurs. We’ve been accused of trying to subvert democracy. Some of us have endured physical intimidation and death threats as we have gone about our work in Parliament, which we must not forget, is to exercise our best judgement in the interests of our constituencies and country.

But we will not be stopped from doing what we think is right for those we are elected to serve.

Whatever side of the argument people are on, surely all can now agree that we need more time. We should seek an extension of Article 50 at the earliest opportunity.

And it being clear that Parliament has been unable to agree a way forward, we must adapt our positions in accordance with reality and have the courage to agree to go back to the people to have the final say on what the way forward should be.

There is no mandate or consensus for what happens next and so today we launch a new Conservative campaign to give people that final say referendum.

Across all the seats that elected Conservatives at the last election 55.8% of voters – on average – support a second referendum and XX% caution against a no-deal Brexit because of its potential impact on the U.K. economy. There are clear consequences for the Conservative Party in denying the electorate a say and delivering a Brexit that does not command their support. What’s right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party.

We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this, not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.

The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim – to secure that vote. It will bring together all the existing Conservative referendum campaigns and act as the vehicle for anyone in our party – Parliamentarians, activists and voters – who sees this as the only sensible option.

We are of course willing to work with anyone, from any party and from none. I hope that will include even some of those who voted leave and support Brexit – this is not a campaign to overturn Brexit, far from it.

This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament.

This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country.

It is time to trust the people and give them the Right to Vote.

To borrow a phrase, it is time to let the people really take back control.


*Check against delivery on 17.01.19