Geraint Davies: Labour will not win votes by becoming a pro-Brexit party – but let’s give people a say on the terms of departure

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Labour and Brexit

Despite what many twittering Remainers like to think, the great majority of those who voted Brexit did not have unreasonable wishes. My constituency of Swansea West narrowly voted to remain, but those who voted to leave the European Union did so for very good reasons.

Having listened to many of their concerns, it seems that people voted to leave with reasonable expectations for:
  • Lower cost
  • Market access
  • Control of immigration.
Rather than wishing to divide the country or motivate any sort of racist movement, Leave voters quite sensibly voted for what was offered them by the likes of Boris Johnson. Indeed, these three conditions are what the majority of all voters wanted – and still want.

The problem is, as we now know from the Governments disastrous informal negotiations and Theresa Mays lack of any coherent Brexit plan, none of these three reasonable requests will be delivered. 

Take costs. People voted for an extra £350m per week for the NHS, when in reality the Government faces a £100 billion budget black hole as a result of the Brexit vote, including an extra contribution of £2.5 billion to the EU as the pound has nose-dived, and we are charged more expensive borrowing costs. That is not what people voted for. Nor is growing inflation which is hitting poorest households hardest.

As for market access – Nissan has already been given money under the table to compensate for the inevitable tariffs. Only Germany and Holland have a trade surplus with Britain, so the other 25 countries all have an interest in tariffs.

On tariff wars, Boris reportedly told an Italian minister last week that prosecco sales would be hit by a UK tariff if the UK were out of the single market. The minister rightly pointed out that Italy would only lose exports to one country while the UK loses exports to 27.

And lastly, immigration. The EU has made it clear that it is impossible to remain part of the single market without being a part of the customs union – i.e. free movement of labour. Mays trade mission in India was a failure as, contrary to Brexit pledges, she did not relax migration rules.

You cannot have your cake and eat it: if Britain is to be an outward-facing, trading nation, on which our prosperity depends, we must accept the need to have some movement of labour. Instead we risk replacing skilled EU workers – who contribute 34 per cent more in tax than they consume in public services -with British pensioners returning from France and Spain, putting a strain on the NHS.

Confidence in democracy depends on people getting what they reasonably expected from election pledges. In the same way that you have the right to return a mobile phone that doesnt do what it claims, the electorate deserves a final say on the terms of Brexit.

Labour will not win votes by becoming a pro-Brexit party: those parties already exist. Indeed, a recent YouGov poll suggests that not guaranteeing a second referendum would put us behind the Lib Dems. The 48 per cent – with the many Brexiters who regretted their vote – are now “The Silent Majority” of Remainers who will certainly make their voice heard at the ballot box. 

Labour will only win back votes by convincing the electorate of our own version of events and demanding that promises made to Brexit voters on reduced costs and access to the single market are delivered without job losses. Brexit voters deserve the chance to confirm what they voted for is what’s on offer in the deal before committing to leave.

The Supreme Court has confirmed that Article 50 is irrevocable which means once it is triggered we have handed in our EU membership card. Then the remaining 27 EU states have two years to dictate the terms of our Exit and we have NO negotiating power. In contrast, if we delay article 50 and promise voters a ballot on the Brexit package before the trigger then EU countries would have an incentive to negotiate – as the default position of rejecting the deal would be to remain in the EU which they want. In practice, we know the deal will be a version of Norway or Canada but, at the moment, the EU has no incentive to negotiate before article 50 and no need to do so afterwards. So negotiation has to be kept secrets as we hold blank cards. If the UK tries to negotiate an exit package after triggering article 50 or 218 we would simply have to accept what is on the table or leave with nothing. 

Nor do we need to pretend that Brexit is inevitable as this simply allows UKIP and the Conservatives to define the terms of debate, as they have been doing for the past six years, and this could put us out of Government for years to come.

That is why we should ensure that article 50 is not triggered until the autumn, that we have pre-trigger negotiation and that the country has a final vote to affirm the deal or stay in the EU as suggested in my ‘Terms of Withdrawal from the EU (Referendum)’ Bill. If you support this strategy please ask your MP to sign EDM 243.

A credible and effective opposition would be ready to block the government’s agenda if the reasonable expectations of its constituents are not satisfied. An opposition that will make a fuss in parliament, but will ultimately vote with the government, does not stand up for the legitimate demands of both Remainers and Leavers. Half of those who Labour claims to represent voted, on quite reasonable grounds, for Brexit. What they have voted for has failed to materialise, and Labour must continue to represent them. They have signalled their desired direction of travel in good faith which we all must respect.  They now deserve a final say on whether Britain’s current destination, as it comes into sharp focus, is where they really want to end up. Our job is to give them the power to decide.

Geraint Davis is MP for Swansea West.

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