Labour can counter Tory betrayal of Leave voters by demanding election on Brexit

As a Labour member who voted to remain in the EU I have supported the policy of the party that we must respect the result of the referendum. So I have argued the case for a soft Brexit that provides the least damaging deal between Britain and the bloc.

However, it is becoming ever clearer that the original warning to Britain from EU leaders that there is only one type of exit, a hard Brexit, which will do untold harm to British business and its citizens. In a recently leaked letter to the Financial Times the ever-smiling David Davis says amazingly that he is “surprised that the European Commission is preparing for a no-deal scenario”.

However, although charming EU leaders with a football shirt may help personal relationships, effectively Labour negotiators will face a mountain to climb in trying to secure a less damaging Brexit that can only be inferior to full membership without equal voting rights in future decision making.

This disastrous train crash can be avoided by parliament rejecting the exit deal and forcing a general election with Labour supporting continued membership of the EU.

Parliament is expected to vote on the terms of our exit from the EU in the autumn of 2018. This vote and its consequences are far more important than previous general elections that decide on policies for a five-year parliament.

It is very likely that if the government wins the vote on the exit terms once we have left the EU in 2019 then the Tories will go to the country under a new leader a few months later.

The Tory manifesto will declare that a successful and orderly exit from the EU has honoured the referendum mandate. It will ask for a further mandate to navigate a great independent Britain to trade with the world and will promise we will live prosperously ever after.

The reality is that we would have left the EU without a clue what our future relationship with the group will look like. Britain will be faced with years of uncertainty making the same financial contributions to the EU but without any say in the rules which we will have to follow.

The promises made to Leave voters and claimed by the government that the exit agreement would include a good deal between with the EU, and be ready for implementation as soon as we have left the EU, are totally false and another blatant deception.

The brutal truth is that while a Labour government would rightly blame the Tories for the mess we would find ourselves in we would none the less be faced with years consumed by negotiations with the EU and damaging uncertainty for business and citizens. Our capacity to deliver on improving our public services and a growing economy would be severely curtailed, if not impossible to deliver, until a “good deal” with the EU is secured.

This scenario can be avoided and Labour should do all in its power to change the course to which Britain is heading.

Firstly, the party should seek the broadest alliance in parliament and in the country aimed to defeat any exit deal as described above.

Secondly, Labour should argue that Leave voters have been betrayed. The government has failed to deliver on its promises and the best way forward for Britain is to maintain our membership of the EU and work with our EU partners for major reforms that reflect the interests of the British people.

The main political parties, academia, business and prominent individuals across all walks of life can be galvanised to throw down the gauntlet to the government and demand a general election on our future relationship with the EU. They would be enthused by the fact that the main opposition party offers a clear choice on whether Britain continues into the unknown for an unknown period of time, or grasps the opportunities and stability of continued membership alongside the pursuit of vigorous reform from our EU partners.

This position is consistent with our policy of respecting the result of the referendum. Labour can legitimately argue that it has respected the referendum result by supporting triggering article 50 to leave the EU but it is the government that has failed to deliver. It is also closely aligned to the view of most of our supporters in the country and party members.

Labour should gain a significant number of votes from other parties including Conservatives who take the Heseltine view that remaining in the EU takes precedence over party loyalty. This should help Labour in Scotland to take votes from the Tories and SNP.

Yes, we do risk losing some of our supporters who voted Leave. We must continue to address their concerns particularly on immigration.

Labour should emphasise its commitment to address regional inequality and provide significant impact funds for communities particularly affected by immigration. Above all those communities who voted Leave in large numbers suffer most from under-funding of public services.  

Hopefully our traditional supporters when faced with a choice between a discredited Tory government that has failed to deliver on Brexit and a Labour manifesto “for the many not the few” they will vote for us in sufficient numbers to deliver a majority Labour government focussed on delivering its manifesto promises.

Phil Beyer is Labour Party activist in Solihull. 

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