We need a vote on the final Brexit deal, argues the Labour mayor of Liverpool

15th September, 2017 8:00 am

“I hear what you’re saying, but don’t cut your nose off to spite your face,” I found myself repeating again and again during the Brexit referendum campaign.

Like most Labour campaigners, I trudged the streets and knocked on doors pleading with voters when necessary to vote to Remain in the EU.

While the national Remain campaign focused too much effort in making out people were stupid if they didn’t accept that everything in the EU garden was wonderful, many of us on the ground were trying to engage with voters and convince them about the practical benefits of staying in.

Unfortunately, the rest is history. The public voted by 52 per cent to leave in the biggest democratic exercise we’ve ever held. That can’t be dismissed lightly.

And even though I consider myself a staunch pro-European, there is little point denying reality or the will of the people.

What’s more, the argument that the electorate were ‘duped’ merely insults voters, many of whom used Brexit as a proxy for a range of concerns, notably around immigration.

As it stands, the chances of Britain remaining in the European Union are slim to non-existent.

But a slim chance is better than no chance.

Where we managed to spell out the practical benefits of Europe, we won the day. In Liverpool, 58 per cent voted to Remain.

That’s because cities like mine experienced the practical of benefits of being in the EU. Europe was there for us – especially in the 1980s – when our own government wasn’t.

Objective One and other regional funding streams helped bring Liverpool back from the dark days when ministers in the Thatcher Government were seriously contemplating writing us off entirely.

‘Managed decline’ they called it. Europe allowed us to begin a ‘managed renaissance.’ EU funding helped us to bounce back and catalysed many of the dramatic changes we’ve seen in the city over the past few years.

As a local government leader, I deal in hard reality and finding pragmatic solutions. That’s exactly the approach we pro-Europeans now need to take.

No more moping about the loss. No more complaints that the Leavers’ fibs were better than the Remainers.

There is still a chance to make the case that the facts have now changed.

The Brexiteers’ claims about ‘taking back control’ are already crumbling. Recent talk of transitional arrangements if we leave is an admission that this whole process is harder – and riskier – than we were promised.

The shambles of the Government’s dawdling negotiations means the risk of a hard Brexit – with Britain effectively thrown out of the club and landing in a heap on the pavement outside – is now a real prospect.

Ministers still can’t sort the Irish border question, which must rank as one of the more straightforward issues to grapple with. The chances of sorting out the complexities of our future trading arrangements in the year and a half we have left are also slim to non-existent.

By March 2019, the Brexiteers will have had their chance to flesh out their bright new future.

No prizes for guessing that this will amount to a dystopian nightmare with Britain reduced a low-tax, low regulation fiefdom, with neo-liberal hardliners taking a red pen to the social and environmental protections currently guaranteed by EU law.

The stripping away of our economic, environmental and consumer rights will be deep and permanent.

Too much is at stake. Too much will have changed between the referendum in 2016 and the final shape of our future outside the bloc in March 2019.

This is why whatever ministers come up with must be put before the British public in a confirmatory ballot.

Asking the public if they approve of the deal ministers will have negotiated, is entirely justified.

This is not about keeping asking the same question until the political elite get the answer they want. It is about giving the British people sign-off on how the country will be governed after 2019 and the effects that will have on their lives.

Call it a cooling-off vote.

It’s ridiculous that we have more rights when it comes to cancelling their car insurance than we will have to reflect on the biggest change to Britain in our lifetimes.

If the British public still voted to leave, then I would accept their decision with no further protest – and so should everyone else.

But it is right to ask them.

Joe Anderson is Labour Mayor of Liverpool City Council

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