I sat in the Commons Chamber earlier today facing the grim reality of a Boris Johnson Government. We’ve known that it was coming for some time, but now we know what it looks like. The Brexit extremists of ‘Vote Leave’ are in control, with all the key jobs in Government. And behind the scenes too, with the man described by David Cameron as a “career psychopath” – Dominic Cummings – leading operations in Downing Street.
Boris Johnson has shown no compromise within his own party or with the country as a whole. His appointments underline the real nature of the Brexit project; as former Tory Minister Nick Boles said this morning “the hard right have taken over the Conservative Party”. Brexit was always a project of the hard right, to enable them to ignite the bonfire of regulations and rights they have so sought for so long. Now those who sought it for so long are in charge and their objectives will become clear.
Their blueprint for low taxes and low regulation and standards was set out in the hard-right, free market polemic Britannia Unchained – of which a copy was spotted on the floor of Johnson’s car during the Conservative leadership election. Four of its five authors now attend Cabinet. Along with Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss, two of its authors have been appointed to two of great offices of state with Dominic Raab – who has doubled down on his description of feminists as “obnoxious bigots” – as Foreign Secretary and Priti Patel – who has expressed support for capital punishment – now the Home Secretary. Both have called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.
Michael Gove, who is now overseeing ‘no deal’ preparations, encouraged businesses to draw up a list of regulations they wanted scrapped after Brexit. Today in the Commons, they paid lip service to securing a deal but became excited at the prospect of crashing out of the EU without one. Johnson got the keys to Number 10 on the back of his guarantee to leave the EU on 31st October, “do or die”, “no ifs or buts”. As was clear from his first speech on the steps of Downing Street he is preparing to blame the EU for ‘no deal’ while making unrealistic and unachievable demands which will frustrate agreement.
A ‘no deal’ Brexit would be the hardest departure we could have – shrinking the economy by 10% with all the consequences for jobs and services – and it was not what MPs voted for when we voted to trigger Article 50 or when Parliament passed the EU (Withdrawal) Act: Parliament has voted in huge numbers against leaving without a deal three times.
Nor is what I believe the British people want. That choice wasn’t on the ballot paper and those campaigning to leave accepted the need to reach a deal: the official Vote Leave campaign, which Boris Johnson and Michael Gove chaired, pledged that voting leave would mean “negotiat[ing] a new UK-EU Treaty”. As recently as March, Gove made it clear again that “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead.”
Labour will use every parliamentary and political tool we have to stop this Cabinet of ideologues crashing us out without a deal. Most importantly, Labour supports a further public vote and would campaign to remain. We have ‘whipped’ our MPs to vote for it twice, I made our backing for it clear in March and the Shadow Cabinet reiterated our support in July to remove any doubt.
We are entering a dark phase for our politics, with the most right-wing Cabinet in my lifetime. Crashing out of the EU without a deal would only be the first step in their project and we will do everything we can to stand in their way.