Chris Patten will today declare that a new public vote may be “the only and the best way” to prevent an act of national “self-harm” in the growing crisis over Brexit.
At a speech in London, the former Conservative Party Chairman and Governor of Hong Kong will urge MPs first to reject the Government’s proposed Brexit deal – and then vote decisively against any prospect of the United Kingdom crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Although Lord Patten has previously opposed all forms of referendums, he is expected to say that in the event Parliament cannot agree a future closer relationship with the EU - for example, keeping the UK in the Customs Union and the Single Market - a new vote would be the only way forward.
He is expected to say:
“The whole sorry shambles began with a decision to call a referendum in order to try to manage the English nationalist right wing of the Conservative Party. It may be that we can only end this divisive and impoverishing argument by holding another referendum. That may prove to be the only and the best way for Britain to avoid an act of self-harm that would betray the aspirations of so many not least the younger citizens of this country.”
Speaking alongside Sam Gyimah, who resigned as universities minister last month over the Government’s plan, Lord Patten will say that the Government’s threat of a no deal Brexit if it cannot get its way is an empty one, saying:
“I don’t believe that the Prime Minister or many members of her Cabinet think that this would be remotely responsible. It would be very damaging. These are similar to the tactics made famous by Dr Strangelove: if you threaten that something crazy will happen your opponents will back down.”
Lord Patten will warn that further efforts to answer criticism of the so-called Irish backstop are unlikely to succeed, saying:
“No amount of verbal guff can deal with the real issue of the Backstop. It is meant to be temporary. However you define that word, its temporary nature can only end when the 27 members of the EU agree this with the United Kingdom. In other words the EU has the decisive say on what happens - that is called ‘taking back control’.”
And he will say that the controversy over the Backstop has only served to mask bigger problems with the proposed deal.
“The so-called political declaration is simply a bucket list of what we would like. Each plus – Canada, Norway, Ukraine – equals a EU minus. Nothing proposed is as good as what we have now. We know that every request we make about our future relationship will have to be agreed by each EU member state. Unanimity will be required. We are not just kicking the can full of our unspecified hopes down the road. We are trying to kick it uphill.”