Catherine West puts the case
As Parliament broke for the summer recess, the Chequers Plan looks dead in the water and the survival of Theresa May’s Government hangs by a thread. Vote Leave, led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, has been fined for electoral fraud and the newly installed Brexit Secretary confirms plans to stockpile food, medicines and blood in preparation for crashing out of the EU with no deal. In the run-up to the 2017 General Election, the Prime Minister told the British people that a vote for her would avoid a “Coalition of Chaos”, what has she delivered? Complete chaos.
The day after the referendum, I had people coming up to me in tears worried about what Brexit meant for their livelihoods and their families’ future. Two years on, these worst fears are coming true. Boris Johnson notoriously said “there is no plan for no deal because we are going to get a great deal”, but where is he now as we lurch towards a no deal exit? It would be catastrophic for people’s jobs, businesses and our economy and throw into complete uncertainty the lives of the three million Europeans who have made Britain their home.
I’ve never trusted this Tory Government to put forward a progressive vision for a post-Brexit future, and now Jacob Rees-Mogg and his band of Brextremists have effectively taken the Prime Minister hostage, driving us towards a future that will not only devastate our economy and enable a race to the bottom on workplace rights but it will fuel further the hard right’s discourse of xenophobia, racism and isolationism.
I voted against triggering Article 50 because I couldn’t back a process that would see us leaving the EU, and I supported over 30 amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would retain environmental protections, keep us in the Single Market, enshrine human-rights law, uphold our international commitment to UN conventions and protect workers’ rights. In recent weeks, I sponsored two amendments to the Trade Bill that would have allowed for a continued Customs Union with the EU – essential as millions of jobs and thousands of businesses depend on it. The second would have allowed Parliament to ratify and consent to future trade deals to ensure scrutiny and oversight. In a world that is growing increasingly unstable and unpredictable, it is more important than ever to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our European neighbours and promote a progressive international agenda.
As Members of Parliament, our vote is our voice and with the Tory party in complete disarray we came close to inflicting a defeat on crucial customs legislation that could have led to a vote of no confidence in the PM and a General Election. Yet May narrowly scraped through – twice by a majority of just three – which makes it all the more staggering that the Liberal Democrat Leader and ex-Leader didn’t even bother to turn up. These are nail biting, crucial decisions for the future of our country so what on earth could be more important? Perhaps, like the Prime Minister they wanted to start their summer holidays early.
With Parliament in deadlock and with a Government becoming weaker and more chaotic by the day, the case for a People’s Vote on the deal grows stronger. Theresa May has no majority for a ‘no-deal’ scenario in the House of Commons. Her chances of pushing through the Chequers Plan appear to be almost as unlikely- a proposal which pleases no-one, criticised by both the Tory Remainers and Brexiteers and which Andrea Leadsom, her own cabinet colleague, called an “embarrassing climbdown”. Barnier has already torn into the deal, and it is abundantly clear that such a deal would not pass Labour’s six tests.
A public vote is quite frankly the most obvious way to end the paralysis in Westminster. A recent YouGov poll not only found that a majority of people would back a people’s vote on the deal, it also found that most would prefer to stay in the EU rather than accept a deal along the lines of the Chequers proposal or no deal. How can Parliament in all good faith continue to pursue an exit that everyone knows will damage our economy when there is such uncertainty? A People’s Vote would be based on reality – not the propaganda spread across the side of a bus.
Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey & Wood Green