I’ve spent much of the last two weeks campaigning for people to vote – and vote Labour – in the elections we never thought we would have. But whether the MEPs that we elect on Thursday are in the European Parliament for just weeks or much longer, these elections matter – for our country and our continent. And voting Labour matters too.
The attempts by the far-right to exploit the Brexit crisis are part of a wider populist movement across Europe which is promoting hatred and dividing communities. Sending a block of Farage supporters to the Parliament will strengthen their hand, while Labour MEPs will join the group of Socialists and Democrats who are best placed to block their advance.
I know that Labour supporters are considering voting for the Liberal Democrats or Greens because of what they see as the ambiguity of our position on a further public vote – and I understand those concerns. But voting Labour remains the best way of securing that vote and preventing the far-right securing more seats.
Yorkshire and Humber will be electing six MEPs under a PR system but, with Labour and Farage’s Brexit Party neck and neck in the polls, voting for smaller parties can help Farage – see more here. If Labour’s vote falls in these elections, we will lose the second person on our list; Eloise Todd, who is founder of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain and a strong campaigner for a further public vote.
Labour’s policy was set by our conference last September; to oppose any damaging Brexit deal or ‘no deal’, to seek a deal which does not damage our economy, to press for a General Election and to support the option of a public vote. We voted down May’s damaging deal three times, we blocked ‘no deal’, we sought a General Election, and six weeks talks on a different deal collapsed when the Tories were not prepared to compromise. A public vote is the remaining option and, as Jeremy Corbyn told Andrew Marr yesterday, “We would want a vote in order to decide what the future would be” on any deal that can be secured.
We whipped our MPs to back a public vote twice in Parliament and pressed for it in the talks with Government. Our Shadow Brexit Secreatary Keir Starmer made it clear that any deal must include a confirmatory public vote and that the choice in such a vote should be, as I set out as a Shadow Brexit Minister at the despatch box, “between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU”.
I am disappointed that, for their own reasons, the Liberal Democrats and Greens have tried to paint Labour as a pro-Brexit party. We wouldn’t be in this mess without the last referendum, which the Liberal Democrats joined UKIP in pressing the Tories to support and which the Greens backed at the 2015 General Election – while Labour opposed it, saying the issue was too complex for a simple binary vote.
When David Cameron called the referendum, Labour campaigned to remain because we believed it was in the interests of our country and the continent that we share – and those reasons are even stronger now. As I have regularly said over the last couple of years, a further public vote presents challenges and the outcome is uncertain, but I believe that it is now the best way to break the impasse in Parliament and give people the final say.