Willie Rennie: ‘Will of the People’ must be heard on final Brexit deal

Public opinion has clearly shifted since the vote to leave the European Union two years ago, says Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie
Public opinion has clearly shifted since the vote to leave the European Union two years ago, says Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie
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Holyrood will shortly return and mark the Brexit home stretch. Unless something changes, this will be the last time that the Scottish Parliament returns from its summer break, the last time the Government sets out its plans for the year ahead, before Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019.

I don’t believe people had a lot of confidence in Theresa May at the beginning of this process, but as the chaos has unfolded and the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal have become clearer, they certainly can’t have now. Hopefully the stream of industry warnings and some fresh air from her walking holiday on Lake Garda will have helped the Prime Minister see sense. Giving the people a vote on the final Brexit settlement is now the only way forward.

I’ve spent a great deal of this summer out and about across Scotland, meeting people and getting a sense of the troubling issues that are hovering over our communities. On the shores of the East Neuk of Fife, the crab and scallop fishermen are warning that their world-class seafood will be compromised by long queues of lorries being trapped at the border. In the West Highlands, crofting communities have been left in a state of uncertainty as both the Scottish and UK governments dance around answering the pressing questions about the future of agricultural funding. And in fields from Forfar to Nairn, hundreds of tonnes of fruit and vegetables have been left rotting in fields because the number of pickers has plummeted.

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Despite what some may say, it’s not just a few celebrities like Gary Lineker and Deborah Meaden who have not given up on our place in the European Union. More and more families across the country think that ripping ourselves out of Europe in the harshest possible fashion just to keep the Tory party intact is a bad idea.

It’s the staff in our public services who recognise the threat Brexit poses to the supply of essential medicines, the businesses who depend on buying and selling goods or services abroad, and the working folk seeing inflation cut into the value of the pound in their pocket.

Two years ago, the idea of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal was a joke. Liam Fox said that the negotiations would be the “easiest in human history”. Yet two years on, the Prime Minister has instead come up with a solution that fails to smooth over the divisions in her own Cabinet let alone have a hope of getting the approval of our fellow EU states.

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As people have been drip-fed the reality of Brexit, there has been a momentous shift in opinion. More than 100 parliamentary constituencies that voted for Brexit two years ago have now sharply pivoted to support staying in the EU. The realities and justification for Brexit are proving unconvincing, the Rees-Mogg characters promoting them stuffy and stale. Boris Johnson isn’t doing what he thinks is best for the country, he’s peddling whatever offensive content will keep him in the news and in the running for number 10. Just yesterday we discovered household bills have soared by £400 since the Brexit vote happened. Few are enticed by the fact public services and jobs will suffer.

After two years of this Brexit chaos, it is clear that any deal Theresa May secures will be worse than our present situation, and the UK Government isn’t even on track to achieve one.

People are changing their minds. It’s their right to do so. We demand a final say on the Brexit deal – goodness knows what that may be – because that’s what democracy is for.

Willie Rennie is Scottish Liberal Democrat leader