Brexit ‘stitch-up’ will not ‘break Farage spell’, say People’s Vote campaigners

A Brexit deal “stitch-up” will not “break the spell” cast by Nigel Farage, People’s Vote campaigners have said.

Successful Government negotiations with Labour on a customs union would leave people an average of £800 worse off every year, according to a report by an economic think tank.

Speaking at the report launch, People’s Vote campaigner and Conservative MP Sam Gyimah said a Labour-Tory “stitch-up” would not quash support for Mr Farage’s new Brexit Party.

Brexit
Sam Gyimah (Victoria Jones/PA)

He said: “I fear that even if the Government and Labour can agree a customs union deal, it will do nothing to break the spell that Nigel Farage has currently cast on British politics.

“The report shows that, far from solving this deeply vexed question… a deal that results in people being poorer and having less control is hardly a solution to the crisis we face.”

The report by the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) warns that – while inflicting half the damage of a no-deal Brexit – such an arrangement would not be pain-free.

The UK economy would shrink about 3% or £80 billion per year, NIESR analysis shows, and even after savings from contributions to the EU budget, the Government would have £13 billion a year less to spend on public services.

Filling the shortfall would mean public service cuts, higher borrowing or tax rises equivalent to 2.5p on the basic rate of income tax, the think tank said.

Mr Gyimah, who quit his post as universities minister over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, appealed for a “clear-eyed, fact-driven and sober” review of Brexit, instead of the “fire and fury” of Mr Farage’s rallies “selling people unicorns”.

The East Surrey MP noted Mr Farage had “stopped making the argument for Brexit” by refusing to set out any policies in his European election manifesto.

“He never tells us about why Brexit makes sense any more, he never tells us about the great opportunities that Brexit will deliver any more,” he told the Press Association.

“The only argument he has standing is that there was a vote and we cannot go back on that vote, but nobody is saying go back on that vote, we are saying… give the people a final say.

“We don’t become North Korea by giving the people more democracy – actually it enhances and strengthens our democracy.”

Mr Gyimah also warned of “over-interpreting” the huge support predicted for the Brexit Party in the European elections, which he said would not be replicated in a Westminster poll.

Pointing to the success of Mr Farage’s former party Ukip in European elections in 2009 and 2014, Mr Gyimah said: “Nigel Farage is the master of harnessing grievances, that is what he is about.

“But in 2015 there was a general election and Nigel Farage could not even get himself elected to Parliament. Ukip went from 27% to 12% of the vote.”

Asked whether calling for a People’s Vote was undermining democracy, Labour MP Rachel Reeves said it was the behaviour of Mr Farage “and his followers” that was damaging to British values.

Labour Party conference 2016
Rachel Reeves (Danny Lawson/PA)

“I think what damages democracy is false promises and lies, something propagated by Nigel Farage and his followers for many years,” she said.

“The stoking up of anger and violence and intimidation towards MPs, but more widely as well – that is what is damaging to democracy.

“Someone standing for the European Parliament who talks about raping MPs – that is what is absolutely damaging and corrosive to democracy and to our British values.”

That was an apparent reference to Ukip candidate Carl Benjamin, who is being investigated by police after releasing a video suggesting he “might” rape Labour MP Jess Phillips.

Change UK MP Sarah Wollaston, formerly a Conservative, also speaking at the event, pointed to Mr Farage’s refusal to reveal his financial backers during the referendum and now for the Brexit Party.

Independent Group MPs
Sarah Wollaston (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Dr Wollaston, who chairs Westminster’s health committee, said Brexit was “major constitutional, economic and social surgery” and a deal required the people’s consent.

She said: “It’s very hard to imagine a scenario in healthcare where you would wheel someone into the operating theatre for that kind of major surgery based on a vague consent form signed by the public two years ago.

“In particular for young people, where it is their grandparents who signed it two years ago.

“We need to go back to the public and say, ‘Is this what you really want or would you rather stick with the far better deal that we already have?'”

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