David Davis has rejected calls for the Government’s Brexit Bill to include a clause giving Parliament the power to reverse Brexit, claiming it is “unnecessary” – despite having previously said that countries which cannot change their minds “cease to be democracies”.
The Brexit Secretary told Parliament earlier this week that “we cannot have…any suggestion that the votes in either House will overturn the result of the referendum” and dismissed “any prospect that we might actually decide to remain in the European Union”.
He has also repeatedly dismissed calls for a public referendum on the final exit deal Britain negotiates with the EU, claiming it was merely an attempt to “wreck” Brexit.
However, it has emerged that in a 2012 speech on the European Union (EU), Mr Davis said: “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”.
At the time he was criticising the EU for imposing irreversible laws on member states – something the current Brexit Secretary said was “not just undemocratic, it is anti-democratic”.
In recent months, however, Mr Davis has suggested there should be no opportunity for Britain to change its mind on whether to leave the EU.
Late last year he insisted: “There can be no going back, the point of no return was passed on June 23 last year.”
Opponents have accused Mr Davis of “hypocrisy” over the apparent shift.
“For years Brexiteers like David Davis have banged on about parliamentary sovereignty and handing back control to the people”, Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent. “Now they are refusing to give Parliament or the British people the final say on what is set to be the biggest change in our lifetimes.
“This is a staggering level of hypocrisy. The Government has opted for a destructive Brexit that will do huge damage to our economy and rob younger generations of opportunities they currently enjoy.
“The Liberal Democrats will keep fighting to give the British people the final say on the deal, so that a hard Brexit isn’t imposed on the country that nobody voted for.”
A government spokesperson said: “The British people voted to leave the EU and we are determined to respect their decision. As the Prime Minister has said, there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”
Ministers have insisted Parliament will be given a vote on whatever Brexit package Theresa May negotiates with the EU.
But MPs will only be able to choose between the options of accepting the deal or leaving the EU without an exit package.
Regardless of the nature of the agreement the Prime Minister strikes, there will be no option for either the House of Commons or the House of Lords to vote to keep Britain in the EU.
The Lords had previously voted in favour of an amendment that would have enshrined in law ministers’ promise of a second parliamentary vote on the Brexit package.
Mr Davis insisted that was “unnecessary” because he would not go back on his word.
Critics said the Conservatives had already broken several of their manifesto promises, including one to keep Britain in the single market, and suggested there was nothing to guarantee their latest pledge would be kept.
Theresa May has also repeatedly refused demands to call a general election to seek a fresh mandate on her plans for a hard Brexit.
It means there is now no real prospect of Parliament or the British people being able to change their mind on Brexit – despite Mr Davis’ earlier argument that the opportunity to reverse policy is fundamental to any democracy.