Four months ago, I co-founded For our Future’s Sake, a campaign seeking to mobilise young people across the country to demand a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. When we set up the campaign, it felt like we were fighting for a noble pipe dream; our chances of success, slim. After the chaos of the last two weeks, a People’s Vote is not just more likely, it is the only viable way to unblock the inevitable deadlock in parliament and avoid a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The Prime Minister secured cabinet support for her unworkable Chequers proposals, but it took just two days for the unity to unravel. The departures of Boris Johnson and David Davis, both infantile and out of their depth, were long overdue. Theresa May, weak and ineffective, is Prime Minister in name only. The country’s Brexit positions are now subject to the whims and prejudices of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his merry-band of hard-right Brexiteers.
People across this country – whether they voted Leave or Remain – know that this Brexit process is a shambles. Our country’s standing in the world is plummeting. Business investment has drastically declined. Economic growth is anemic compared to our European partners. We’re not going to get a grand trade deal with the United States. There is no ‘Brexit dividend’ for the NHS. In short, the promises made by the Leave campaign have collapsed. Their fairytale has become a horror show.
Until now, Labour has engaged in constructive ambiguity on Brexit. This approach arguably served us well in 2017, and I would be lying if I said I felt no joy in seeing the Tories tear themselves apart. But following the summer recess, this ambiguity must come to an end. The time has come for us to take a stand.
Immigrants are not the cause of our country’s problems. Despite its flaws, neither is the European Union. Job insecurity, poor productivity, underfunded hospitals, crumbling schools, lack of housing – these are the consequences of a Tory government hell-bent on rolling back the state and through an ideologically-driven austerity programme.
Brexit means none of these challenges are being tackled. And our departure, whether soft or hard, would only make things worse. With full force, Labour must be prepared to tell the truth to voters: Brexit never has been, nor will it ever be, the answer to the challenges our country faces. There isn’t a deal that can be negotiated that won’t do lasting damage to either our democracy or our economy. We owe it to future generations to show bravery and acknowledge the damage Brexit will inflict our economy and society.
Some argue that Labour should push for another election. But bearing in mind the gains we made in June 2017, the Tories will surely avoid another election at all costs. Others say another referendum will be divisive. Though that may be true, our movement should be more fearful of the disastrous impact Brexit will have on our country and the limitations it will impose on a future Labour government to deliver a transformative agenda.
The overwhelming majority of Labour members, supporters and Members of Parliament are pro-EU. We know that those most negatively affected by Brexit – working-class and young people – should be natural Labour supporters. There is nothing socialist about making the working classes of this country poorer. There is nothing left-wing about xenophobia and jingoism running rampant. And there is nothing progressive about shutting us off from the world.
Labour is a moral crusade or it is nothing – and a People’s Vote is the moral cause of our time. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Labour Party to be on the right side of history and the left side of the argument.
With the days counting down to Labour Party conference, the meaningful vote in parliament and the end of Article 50, we haven’t got long. That’s why party members are mobilising to convince our leadership. It’s why Momentum members are coming together to support a People’s Vote. And it’s why different factions are all coming to the same conclusion: the only Brexit is a Tory hard Brexit.
Four months is a long time in politics. In this parliament, it is a lifetime. I predict we’ll be in a very different place in four months’ time. For our future’s sake, I hope Labour will be arguing for a People’s Vote, and for continued membership of the EU.
Jason Arthur is co-founder of For our Future’s Sake.