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Should the UK remain a member of the EU?

If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state

Theresa May 

Theresa May
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May | Photo: Reuters

Tomorrow, Members of Parliament will cast their votes on the Withdrawal Agreement on the terms of our departure from the European Union and the Political Declaration on our future relationship.

That vote in Westminster is a direct consequence of the votes that were cast by people here in Stoke, and in cities, towns and villages in every corner of the United Kingdom.

In June 2016, the British people were asked by MPs to take a decision: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or should we leave?

In that campaign, both sides disagreed on many things, but on one thing they were united: what the British people decided, the politicians would implement.

In the run-up to the vote, the government sent a leaflet to every household making the case for remain. It stated very clearly: ‘This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.’

Those were the terms on which people cast their votes.

If a majority had backed remain, the would have continued as an member state.

No doubt the disagreements would have continued too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the in spite of a vote to remain or that we should return to the question in another referendum.

On the rare occasions when Parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries a profound significance.

When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh Assembly, that result was accepted by Parliament.

Indeed we have never had a referendum in the United Kingdom that we have not honoured the result of.

Parliament understood this fact when it voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50.

And both major parties did so too when they stood on election manifestos in 2017 that pledged to honour the result of the referendum. Yet, as we have seen over the last few weeks, there are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop and who will use every device available to them to do so. I ask them to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy.

The House of Commons did not say to the people of Scotland or Wales that despite voting in favour of a devolved legislature, Parliament knew better and would over-rule them. Or else force them to vote again.

What if we found ourselves in a situation where Parliament tried to take the out of the in opposition to a remain vote?

People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm.

We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum. Ever since I reached an agreement with the EU on a Withdrawal Agreement and declaration on our future relationship I have argued that the consequences of Parliament rejecting it would be grave uncertainty - potentially leading to one of two outcomes.

Either a ‘no deal’ Brexit, that would cause turbulence for our economy, create barriers to security cooperation and disrupt people’s daily lives.

Or the risk of no at all – for the first time in our history failing to implement the outcome of a statutory referendum and letting the British people down.

These alternatives both remain in play if the deal is rejected. There are differing views on the threat that a no deal exit poses. I have always believed that while we could ultimately make a success of no deal, it would cause significant disruption in the short term and it would be far better to leave with a good deal. Others in the House of Commons take a different view and regard no deal as the ultimate threat to be avoided at all costs. To those people I say this: the only ways to guarantee we do not leave without a deal are: to abandon Brexit, betraying the vote of the British people; or to leave with a deal, and the only deal on the table is the one MPs will vote on tomorrow night.

You can take no deal off the table by voting for that deal. And if no deal is a bad as you believe it is, it would be the height of recklessness to do anything else.

But while no deal remains a serious risk, having observed events at Westminster over the last seven days, it is now my judgment that the more likely outcome is a paralysis in Parliament that risks there being no

That makes it even more important that MPs consider very carefully how they will vote tomorrow night.

As I have said many times – the deal we have agreed is worthy of support for what it achieves for the British people.

Immigration policy back in the hands of people you elect – so we can build a system based around the skills people have to offer this country, not where they come from, and bring the overall numbers down. Sovereign control of our borders.

Decisions about how to spend the money you pay in taxes back under the control of people you elect – so we can spend the vast annual sums we send to Brussels as we chose, on priorities like our long-term plan for the NHS. Sovereign control of our money.

No one else has put forward an alternative which does this. Compare that outcome to the alternatives of no deal or no Brexit. With no deal we would have: no implementation period, no security co-operation, no guarantees for citizens overseas, no certainty for businesses and workers here in Stoke and across the UK, and changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland that would put the future of our Union at risk.

And with no Brexit, as I have said, we would risk a subversion of the democratic process.

Edited excerpts from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech on Brexit at Stoke-on-Trent, January 14

First Published: Sat, January 19 2019. 19:31 IST