Tory Brexit shambles is Labour’s opportunity

Catherine West makes the case to put any deal back to the people

It’s almost three years now since the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU. Three years of shambolic negotiations under this inept Tory Prime Minister that have left Parliament gridlocked, Government paralysed, businesses in limbo and jobs lost. The three million EU citizens who have made the UK their home and who have contributed so much to our country have been made to feel unwelcome and uncertain about what their future holds. Our international reputation has been trashed and in the latest Sky polling 90 per cent of people said the handling of negotiations is a ‘national humiliation’.

I’m only surprised it wasn’t 100 per cent.

There has to be a change of course, but this Government refuses to consider it despite Theresa May’s deal being comprehensively defeated three times. That’s why Parliament had to take over, and in the indicative votes I backed proposals to revoke Article 50 if no deal is reached before exit day. Over six million people signed the petition calling for this, the biggest in Parliament’s petition history. We cannot risk stumbling into a catastrophic ‘no deal’ that would devastate our economy and throw into complete uncertainty the lives of EU citizens living in the UK, yet even with the latest extension this will happen by default on 31 October unless Parliament acts.  

I also supported proposals to give the public a final say on any deal that comes forward from this process. I do understand the concerns some of my colleagues have about a second vote. The referendum campaign was so unpleasant and divisive, splitting communities and in many cases families. For areas that voted to leave or were divided 50:50 I know it isn’t an easy decision to reopen that debate. But fear can’t ever be a reason to press ahead with something that we know will be so damaging to our country and the communities we serve. Instead, we must challenge the prejudice and bigotry that Brexit unleashed and that saw a spike in hate crime after the first referendum. I’m appalled at far-right attempts to use this mess to whip up racism. Remainers and leavers alike must condemn this and, with the latest delay meaning the UK is now contesting European elections, we must use these to stand up for an inclusive vision and future for our country. 

The spectacle of the Prime Minister travelling to Germany and France to beg for the assistance of European leaders makes a farce of the idea this is about “taking back control”. We must use the six-month extension we’ve been granted to hold a confirmatory public vote on any compromise agreement that wins Parliament’s support and I am pleased that Jeremy Corbyn and his negotiating team have made clear this is central to the ongoing talks.  

Democracy didn’t stop on 23 June 2016 and it’s crucial that the public have the opportunity to vote based on where we are now, not the spin, lies and electoral fraud of the original referendum campaign. 

We can officially say ‘electoral fraud’ now as it’s no coincidence that Vote Leave used the occasion of the third meaningful vote to quietly drop their appeal against their record fine for breaking electoral law. It’s staggering that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are vying to be the next Prime Minister despite overseeing this campaign that has now admitted illegality and the largest breach of campaign finance law in British history. Their actions during and since the campaign should be fully investigated.   

Achieving a referendum will only be part of the battle. We then need to win it and that means working together as a Labour Party to build a progressive, internationalist case for a Europe that stands against austerity and anti-migrant policies and challenge a Tory Brexit that would be a disaster for workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer standards.  

I’ve been speaking at packed public meetings of Labour for a Socialist Europe, Another Europe is Possible and Labour for a People’s Vote in the past few months and believe there’s a growing realisation on the left of the party that we can’t rebuild prosperity at home if we allow Brexit to destroy our economy. 

Any hope of a change of course on Brexit, and of a government that challenges the failed austerity that created the conditions which led to the Brexit vote in the first place, is only going to come about through the Labour Party. We must seize the mantle and set out a positive vision of a fairer Europe with a well-funded industrial strategy for each region, a programme of investment in genuinely affordable housing, high quality and accessible transport and a sense of hope for our young people. We did it after WWII when the EU was first founded and we can and must do it again for the 21st century.    

Catherine West

Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey & Wood Green.