This week will be crucial in seeking to resolve the Brexit chaos, so it seemed like a good moment to reflect on how we’ve got to this point and to set out my views on the key issues ahead.
There should never have been a referendum on our membership of the EU. As the last two years have shown, the issue was too complex to be resolved in a simple binary vote. However, Labour was alone among the national political parties in opposing it; with the Lib Dems and the Greens, alongside the Tories and UKIP, calling for an in/out binding referendum.
Labour was clear that remaining in the EU was right for our country and the continent that we share. I campaigned relentlessly to remain and was pleased that my constituency voted 70:30 to do so. Although the national vote of 52:48 meant we had to trigger Article 50, to begin the negotiations to leave, the narrow margin was not a mandate to rupture our relations with our nearest neighbours and most important trading partners.
Theresa May allowed the ‘Brexit extremists’ of the European Research Group (ERG) to set the red lines for her negotiations – no customs union, no single market, no role for the European Court of Justice – preventing the sort of compromise that could have won support in Parliament and brought the country together. She called an election in June 2017, specifically seeking a mandate for this ‘hard Brexit’, and lost her majority.
That would have been a moment to try again to reach out and build a new consensus, but she ploughed on regardless until last November when she published a deal that nobody wanted. Facing defeat, she postponed the vote until 15 January when she lost by the biggest margin in the history of our Parliament.
Again, she could have reached out to build a compromise, but pressed ahead regardless. She secured made minor changes to try to address the issues raised by the ERG and DUP on the Northern Ireland backstop, but ignored the concerns of most of the 432 MPs who voted against her – that her deal will deeply damage our economy.
We have made it clear throughout that we will not be blackmailed by her ‘Hobson’s Choice’ of accepting her deal or crashing out of the EU with no deal. It’s a bogus choice; there are other options and this week we’ll be trying to enable Parliament to consider them all. So let me set out my view on the issues that have been raised by constituents.
- Theresa May’s deal – I’ve voted against it twice and will do so if it’s brought back again this week. As a Shadow Brexit Minister, I set out Labour’s reasons for rejecting the deal when I responded to the Prime Minister on the first day it was debated (see more here). It fails the six tests we set out and will shrink the economy by 4%.
- No deal – Leaving without a deal would be the worst outcome and we have consistently opposed it. The Government have warned that the disruption of ‘no deal’ would risk food and medicine shortages for example and, over the longer term, reduce the economy by 10%. Parliament has rejected leaving without a deal twice. I responded for Labour in a recent debate on no deal saying that instead of threatening it, the PM should be reaching out to find the sensible way forward (see here)
- ‘Norway plus’ – Responding to the Prime Minister on 5 December I set out the sort of relationship that she should have explored – customs union, single market, membership of agencies/partnerships – and this was laid out in details in Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to the Prime Minister on 6 February. Others have argued for a close relationship with the EU through the European Economic Area, like Norway, but with a customs union – an option described as ‘Common Market 2.0’ – which is worth exploring.
- ‘People’s Vote’ – I joined last Saturday’s march to ‘Put it to the People’ and made it clear in the Commons, when speaking for Labour (see here), that we will back “a further public vote between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU” – whether that’s Theresa May’s deal or an alternative. We’ll table or support an amendment on a further public vote when it is most likely to succeed and we’re engaging closely with Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson on their amendment which we back
- Extending/revoking Article 50 – It has been clear for some time that an extension would be inevitable and I made that case for Labour’s front bench in two debates (here and here). We wanted an extension that gave the time needed and opposed setting a deadline – as we had opposed putting 29 March into law. Revoking Article 50 is a unilateral mechanism by which the UK would remain a member of the EU; it would need the endorsement of a further public vote, which we support, or be the right step if we reach the point of leaving without a deal.
It is not clear how things will unfold over the week ahead but these are the principles that will shape Labour’s decisions. Read more in my previous blogposts here.