John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has warned democracy is under threat and said those on the wrong side of a referendum result do not have to accept their case has been lost forever, in remarks welcomed by campaigners for people’s right to change their mind on Brexit.
The Speaker is duty-bound to remain neutral on political issues, but his comments appeared to make a thinly veiled reference to the EU referendum, defending the right for people to argue for a second vote.
He made the speech at a reception on Thursday for Operation Black Vote in the House of Commons, where he warned there were “threats to representative democracy that should concern us”.
“Democracy is not just about one vote once every five years or one vote once on a particular issue causing all argument on that matter to be considered legitimately shut down,” he said.
“That is not the way democracy works. Democracy is a dynamic concept. People who are on the losing side are not obliged to accept that their view has been lost for ever and they are perfectly entitled to continue to argue for it.”
His suggestion that political issues are not always settled by “one vote once” is likely to please those pushing for another referendum on the EU and annoy Brexit supporters, who argue the government must respect the June 2016 result.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat MP and Brexit spokesman for the party, said these were “wise words from the Speaker, who is a staunch defender of our democracy”.
“One vote on one day, in one year, by a small majority cannot bind the British people for eternity. The public is entitled to change its mind on an issue as serious as Brexit,” he said.
Alison McGovern, a Labour MP and leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: “The Speaker is doing his job when defending the rights of our sovereign parliament and of our historic democratic principles.
“The will of the people is not something that is frozen in time and everybody has the right to keep an open mind about whether Brexit is the right thing for our country when we see what the reality looks like.”
Kate Green, a Labour MP and member of the European scrutiny committee, said: “I agree with John Bercow. Both the public and politicians are entitled to argue for what they believe and to change their mind. Indeed, elected members have a special duty to speak up for what they believe to be in the best interests of their constituents and the country.”
Another Labour MP, Geraint Davies, said: “John Bercow is right that British democracy is dynamic and not the dictatorship of the majority. Voters have the right to change their minds in light of the facts.
“Many who voted for Brexit for more money, single market access and taking control have changed their mind in light of growing inflation, the massive divorce bill, threats to jobs and no forward plan. Democracy requires that the people have the final say on the Brexit deal and the right to stay in the EU if the deal doesn’t live up to their reasonable expectations.”
Bercow has previously defended the right of MPs to vote on Brexit in line with their principles. After a band of Tory rebels against the government’s Brexit policies were labelled “mutineers” in the Telegraph, he told the House of Commons that they were “dedicated public servants” and “never mutineers, traitors, malcontents nor enemies of the people”.
Those campaigning against a hard Brexit have been increasingly hopeful about the prospect of a second poll after the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage made a surprise call last week for Britain to prepare for another EU referendum.
Although he has since backtracked, his intervention was seized on by those who believe another referendum is the best way of overturning the result, including the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Labour peer Andrew Adonis. His comments were seen as a sign that political pressure was building for a public vote on the final deal.
However, Theresa May has insisted she will not allow another referendum and the government has refused to release the legal advice on whether it is even technically possible to reverse article 50, which triggered the Brexit process.
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