As the government’s Article 50 bill makes its way to the Lords this week, the ghosts of New Labour past are fighting to prevent a hard Brexit — or any Brexit at all. Following Tony Blair’s speech on Friday calling for the public to rise up and stop a ‘Brexit at any cost’, today it was Lord Mandelson’s turn. The former ‘prince of darkness’ appeared on the Andrew Marr show to warn of the new risks of Brexit under Theresa May.
Asked whether Brexit was really going to happen, Mandelson assured viewers that Parliament would respect the decision of the referendum — before pointing out that only ’36pc of the public voted to leave’. Mandelson warned that immigration would not fall post-Brexit and that the negotiation would result in less trade at a higher cost. The issue, Mandy went on, was not that Leave had won but that there had been a ‘big change in circumstance’ since the vote — pointing to the fact the UK could leave both the single market and the customs union.
AM: I just don’t see how this rising up is going to happen.
PM: Well, the reason why Open Britain — the organisation I am associated with — asked Blair to make this speech last week before the Brexit legislation goes to the House of Lords for debate tomorrow and Tuesday — is because we firmly believe that many people who voted in the referendum had no idea of the terms on which the government would decide to leave the EU – that is the big change in circumstance.
AM: I get that
PM: There are many people across the country, people who don’t have extreme views one way or the other, but they feel they are being bulldozed. They feel their voices are not being heard or expressed in parliament. What we’re saying is sign up to Open Britain, give us some money and help us campaign against this Brexit at all costs.
AM: I’m still not really clear what people can do. They can sign up, but in the end this is a political question.
Mandelson said that on the issues of ‘a meaningful vote’ and securing the rights of EU nationals, the government could be defeated in the House of Lords this week. If this were to happen the amended legislation would be sent back to the House of Commons. While Mandelson conceded that at the end of the day the House of Commons must prevail, he said he hoped the Lords would not ‘throw the towel in too early’.
He went on to accuse Leave campaigners such as David Davis of fraud — even though both Michael Gove and Boris Johnson said the UK would most likely leave the single market during the campaign. Neither Mandelson nor Blair appear to have changed their position at all since the referendum — repeating the same arguments they used ahead of the vote. When Marr pointed out that polling suggests support for Brexit is growing — with the number of people supporting Remain down from 48pc to 42pc — Mandelson dismissed the findings and said other opinion polls suggest Leave voters are having ‘collywobbles’. If the New Labour grandees hope to shape Brexit, they would be better served trying to understand the motivation for Brexit rather than saying the public didn’t understand what it was they voted for.