Ian Murray: Humbled Tories must shelve the rhetoric of a “hard Brexit”

14th June, 2017 10:30 am

If it’s true that the more effort and ingenuity you put into gambling, the more you get out, then effort and ingenuity must be in short supply in the Tory party. The Tories have turned into serial gamblers, and very incompetent and self-serving ones, at that. David Cameron gambled his future – and that of the country – on the EU referendum. He lost, and promptly fell on his sword. Theresa May gambled her premiership on securing a mandate for a hard Brexit. She lost, and now her power hangs by a thread, dangled by the DUP. Not a comfortable place to be.   

One of the many problems with gambling is the affect it has on others. David Cameron sought to strengthen himself by taking a flutter on the future of this country. As a consequence, we were left staring into the economic abyss of a hard Brexit. Theresa May has now done the same, calling a general election in order to quash democratic opposition to her plans to impose that hard Brexit on the electorate.

This time, however, the country stands to benefit from Tory hubris.

At this election the prime minister went all-in, and now she has run out of chips. That means that a hard Brexit, is – or should be – dead in the water, and that can only be a good thing for my constituents in Edinburgh South (78 per cent of whom voted to Remain), and for the millions of others across the UK, whose jobs, rights and prosperity would have been at risk had the Tories been allowed to continue gambling unchecked. Instead, the result of this election has forced the Tories to check their destructive habit and confront reality.  

Suitably chastened, it is time for the Tories to shelve the belligerent rhetoric on Brexit. This was a humbling result, and it would well-behove the government to conduct the upcoming negotiations – which are slated to start on Monday, but may, like the Queen’s Speech, be delayed – with humility. That means listening to the views of other parties and the devolved administrations, and dropping the ridiculous facade that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. These are serious negotiations, and they must be conducted with grace and maturity.

Pledging to oppose a hard Brexit was a key plank of my electoral message in Edinburgh South. It was clearly a popular message – I was re-elected with an increase in my majority of almost 500 per cent, and the Labour vote increased by 12 points in the strongest remain voting areas in the UK. Now I am determined to make good on that electoral pledge by working with Labour colleagues – and with others across the political spectrum – to build cross-party consensus on a Brexit deal that works for the country as a whole.

The first step is to establish consensus on the central principles on which the UK will negotiate. Securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and UK citizens elsewhere in the EU – and working to ensure tariff and non-tariff barrier free access to the single market should be immediate priorities. If there is the political will, then there is surely a practical way to secure the benefits of the single market and customs union for the UK.

Turning to Scotland, Theresa May was not the only gambler in this election. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, gambled her party’s electoral fortunes on a pledge to hold a second independence referendum. As a consequence, the SNP lost a third of their seats. This, surely, is the final nail in the coffin of another unwanted and unnecessary independence referendum.

The Conservative manifesto has been called the worst in history, but this election also exposed the ideological vacuum at the heart of the SNP. Once it became clear that the prospect of another independence referendum was wildly unpopular, they had nothing more to offer. From them, too, a little humility would not go amiss. That humility should start with taking another referendum off the table.

At the outset of this election, no one gave Labour a fighting chance. However, under the strong and passionate leadership of Jeremy Corbyn across the UK and Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, we defied the doubters. Moreover, as a party, we have shown what good organisation, energy and enthusiasm can achieve. The real heroes in this election were the thousands of Labour campaigners and activists who put their lives on hold, went out door-knocking in all kinds of weather – it rained solidly in Edinburgh South on election day – and convinced thousands of voters to back Labour.

We owe them – and we can start paying them back by securing a Brexit deal that works for everyone in this country.

Whilst I’m here – I was returned to parliament with six Scottish Labour colleagues.  I can assure you the “Magnificent 7” will not let you down.

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