'The things that make people in South Shields angry will be made worse by Brexit,' claims ex-MP David Miliband as he calls for second referendum

The things that make people in South Shields angry will only be made worse by Brexit, the town's former MP has said.

Saturday, 23rd March 2019, 11:53 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd March 2019, 12:18 pm
Former South Shields MP David Miliband.
Former South Shields MP David Miliband.

David Miliband said Brexit was getting in the way of changes needed to improve people's lives as he repeated calls for a second referendum in a national BBC interview this morning.

The former Foreign Secretary said there were massive issues of unfairness in society which needed to be addressed, which he knew made people angry - but added Brexit was not the way to deal with those problems.

"My former constituency, South Shields, voted 65% to leave. And I continue to go back there, and I talk to people," he said.

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"Far from being the salve that will address the problems of the country, Brexit compounds the problems that precisely the voters I used to appeal to in South Shields were most angry about."

He added: "Across the western world we know that there are not just deep issues of social and economic inequality, there's also fundamental challenges to the liberal democratic system under which we live.

He went on: "I think this is a time when we have to address the Brexit issue, but obviously there's a massive reform agenda that has to go through for the country. But here's my point. Brexit gets in the way of addressing the big issues facing the country."

Mr Miliband, who stood down as MP for South Shields in 2013 and now lives in New York where he is chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, was speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme after another tumultuous week in British politics.

Recent days have seen Prime Minister Theresa May obtain an extension to the UK's withdrawal date from the EU, and plans to put her Brexit deal to Parliament for a third time.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pour into London today to take part in the Put it to the People march, calling for a fresh vote.

Mr Miliband set out his own stall for a second referendum on Brexit to presenter Nick Robinson, who then pressed him on what should be on the ballot paper.

He said Mrs May's deal or staying in the EU should be the only options, backing Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson's call for MPs to back the Prime Minister's plan - only if it would then go to the people for a final vote.

"Any proposal that goes to the people has to command a majority in Parliament first of all. But my point is whatever proposal does command a majority in the House of Commons, should then go to the people," he said.

"I think it would be undemocratic now not to go back to the people for a final say."

He added: "The case if often made 'how dare one have a further referendum. We've already had one. I want to argue that in the current crisis - and I use that word advisedly, I don't throw that word around - in the current national emergency the only way to build democratic and legitimate strength behind the decision is to go back to the people.

"The reason is that the Brexit that was promised in 2016 is not on offer today. Now we know that the promises that were made about the NHS or 80 million Turks joining the European Union are not true. And the false prospectus means that neither leavers nor remainers are happy today.

"The only was to address this is to say, look, in 2016 we voted on the principle of Brexit. Now there must be an actual plan, it must be deliverable with the European Union, and it should go to the people for a final legitimate confirmation."

Mr Robinson replied: "But you made the point yourself. We voted on the principle, and those who wanted to leave won. And any attempt to mess with that is itself, they say, fundamentally undemocratic."

Mr Miliband said he didn't agree, and said the arguments against a referendum in terms of dividing the country, prolonging the agony and fueling the far right, were the things that were happening as a result of the Prime Minister's plan.

"Her plan doesn't actually solve anything as it leaves most of the difficult issues still to be addressed," he said.

"It is dividing the country: neither leavers or remainers are satisfied or content with her plan and I honestly believe at this time when the country does need to come together, the Prime Minister's 'my way or the high way' approach is actually dividing the country."

The former New Labour bigwig, who stood down as an MP after losing the party leadership election to his brother Ed, said he would still vote Labour - but side-stepped the question of whether he would back Jeremy Corbyn.