Joe Anderson: Labour should back a second EU referendum

We’ve come a long way from the days when Brexiteers promised a free trade utopia and an £350m a week to spend on our NHS. Last week we saw David Davis reduced to warning there will be no Mad Max-style scenario when we leave the European Union. How would he know?

The Brexit Secretary refuses to publish his economic risk analysis so we can have an informed discussion about the effects on cities like mine. What evidence has trickled out of his department shows that the UK economy will take a hit – and the further you are away from Greater London, the harder the punch will feel.

At best, with retained access to the single market, we will take a two per cent hit to GDP over the next 15 years. At worst, with a hard Brexit, this increases to eight per cent. That means hundreds of thousands of jobs taken out of the economy, and we know the impact will be felt unevenly. The further away you are from London and the South East, the deeper the effects.

Liverpool voted 58 per cent to Remain back in June 2016. That’s because we felt the practical 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. We were to be left to fend for ourselves.

But Europe allowed us to begin a ‘managed renaissance’, becoming the modern, optimistic and dynamic city we are today. EU funding helped us to bounce back and catalysed many of the dramatic changes we’ve seen over the past few years.

Ministers know that we are on course to take an economic shellacking. They have done nothing to reassure us that a dystopian nightmare awaits, with Britain reduced to a low-tax, low regulation fiefdom, with neoliberal hardliners taking a red pen to the social and environmental protections currently guaranteed by EU law.

This is a total betrayal of those parts of the country already struggling after a decade of austerity and all the uncertainty generated by the Brexit process. But ministers should care. If we suffer, then Brexit will have demonstrably failed.

If leaving the EU results in a harsh economic winter, then the pendulum of public opinion will swing back the other way. A hard Brexit will destroy the Conservative party. So it’s actually in the interests of Brexiteers to have a second vote on the terms of our departure. Asking the public if they approve of the deal ministers (eventually) negotiate is entirely justified. Call it a confirmatory ballot or a cooling-off vote.

This is not about asking the same question until the political elite get the answer they want. It is about offering a democratic choice about how the country will be governed after 2019 and the effects that will have on their lives – a discussion that never took place during the referendum campaign.

We weren’t told that a free trade deal with the US will give us chlorinated chicken and milk from cows with infected udders. It’s ridiculous that we have more opportunity when it comes to cancelling our car insurance than when it comes to reflecting on the biggest change to Britain’s economic and political fortunes in any of our lifetimes.

The Labour leadership should unequivocally commit to holding a second referendum on the terms of the eventual deal. Nearly half the country backed remaining in the EU in the first place. Before this farce of a negotiation is done and we learn about the dismal neoliberal future that awaits, this figure will rise. Labour will be on the right side of public opinion.

If the British public still voted to leave – after knowing the full facts of what we face about life outside the EU – then as a democrat I would accept their decision. But it is right that we ask them.

Joe Anderson is mayor of Liverpool.

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