Peter Mandelson has demanded that Britain be given the right to “pass judgement” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, raising the prospect of a second referendum or even a general election to make the decision.
Writing exclusively for The Independent, Lord Mandelson accused the Prime Minister of lacking “political courage” and of allowing herself to be led astray by hardcore Eurosceptics in the Tory party. The Labour ex-Cabinet minister said she must be sent back to the negotiating table if her terms are rejected by the country, adding that he hoped the House of Lords would secure the right to have a meaningful decision over Ms May’s deal, as the upper chamber begins a two-day debate on the issue today.
His intervention comes just days after Tony Blair also made a major speech calling on people to “rise up” against what he called Ms May’s “Brexit at any cost” approach to negotiations.
In his article for The Independent, Lord Mandelson, a former EU Trade Commissioner, said: “When a deal is reached the country is entitled, either directly or through Parliament, to pass judgement on what’s on offer.
”That’s what Tony Blair was arguing for in his speech and he is right to do so. I hope the House of Lords secures this right.
“If what replaces EU membership is a pale imitation of the benefits we have currently, we should have the chance to send the Government back to the negotiating table to secure a deal that gives us what we need.”
Lord Mandelson’s words come amid a push by senior figures who backed the Remain camp to realign public debate away from the idea that Britain is helplessly hurtling towards Brexit regardless of what the country’s future relations and trading arrangements with the EU are.
In his piece he sets out how both David Cameron and Ms May have been led by the Eurosceptic right of the Conservative Party, saying: “When asked by audiences why he committed such a strategic blunder by calling the EU referendum, David Cameron says it was inevitable. What he means is that the civil war over Europe had reached such fever pitch in the Tory party he feared for his job if he didn’t give in.
”Similarly, when Theresa May says she cannot thwart the public will to take Britain out of the EU lock, stock and barrel, she means she doesn’t want to expend any political capital standing up to those same ideologues, whatever the economic cost.“
The Labour peer goes on: ”Mrs May should have summoned her political courage – and statesmanship – and said something like this: we have been through a divisive vote but the Government’s job is to respect the result. We will do so, however, in a way that safeguards the economy … Instead, Mrs May has gone full pelt to avoid any public debate about Britain’s options in Europe while rushing off to Washington to show we are not friendless.“
He added that the country must not lose sight of the fact the country’s future prosperity for ”decades to come“ is at stake and that the whole of the country is entitled to make up their minds on the issue, “not just half of it”.
In an interview yesterday, Lord Mandelson said the public could yet swing against Brexit, adding that people would eventually realise they were being offered less trade, at a high cost and with no real cut in immigration.
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill reaches the Lords today, when up to 150 peers are expected to try to speak in an initial two-day debate. Lord Mandelson said he was confident an amendment will be passed to give three million EU citizens in the UK an immediate, unilateral guarantee that their rights will be protected after Brexit.
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He also forecast success for an attempt to ensure Parliament is given a decisive vote on any final deal that the Prime Minister secures – and, crucially, if she fails to agree one.
In his speech last week Mr Blair made a rallying call for people to “rise up” against Brexit, stating that Britain’s departure from the union is not inevitable. He said: ”This is not the time for retreat, indifference, or despair, but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument, but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”