Jess Phillips: Backing a People’s Vote is the feminist thing to do

It’s now 65 days until we could end up leaving the EU without a deal. 65 days until diabetics might not be guaranteed insulin, which they need to survive. 65 days until food supplies – 30% of which we get from the EU – could start to get stuck at the border. And we are no closer to having any idea how we are going to avoid this self-inflicted national catastrophe.

Yvette Cooper today continues her efforts to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit. If passed, her new amendment would force the government to allow a vote on extending Article 50. In the short term, it would prevent national chaos that would, like the 2008 financial crisis before it, fall disproportionately on the shoulders of marginalised groups. Ethnic minorities, women – those who are already struggling to feed their families and pay their bills.

Cooper knows that a no deal Brexit would hit women hardest, and knows the impact it would have on our rights, services and families. But we need more. Deal or no deal, Brexit will threaten women’s rights frameworks and the money in our pockets. It’s time that, as Labour women, we join together and do what party supporters want: back a People’s Vote.

Recent YouGov polling found that almost three quarters (73%) of women who voted Labour in 2017 want a People’s Vote (excluding don’t knows). 58% of women who backed Labour in the last general election say they would not back Labour again tomorrow, with the majority saying they would now vote for parties that back a People’s Vote, such as the Greens or the Lib Dems.

Preventing a no deal is absolutely crucial. That outcome would be an economic catastrophe set to disproportionately affect women, who are overrepresented in precarious employment. It could – in the short term – stop women in Northern Ireland being able to access safe abortions and see funding to refugees and the NHS irreparably damaged.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the European Parliament is busy trying to extend shared parental leave, establish paid carers’ leave as standard and encourage member states to sign the biggest international domestic violence prevention legislation of all time. Do we really want to wave goodbye to all that in favour of economic chaos and increased inequality?

Brexit goes against the interests of most women in the country, particularly vulnerable women – those economically worse off, migrants, LGBT+ and women of colour – who have the most to lose and the most to fear in the event of a no deal scenario. It is not going to be the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg who suffer if Britain leaves the EU without a deal on the 29th March. This is not ‘project fear’ hysteria but the genuine concerns of those of us who are committed to the many, not the few. Of course Labour should be doing all it can to prevent this from happening.

‘All we can’ includes supporting the opportunity for the public to vote on whether this is truly the best thing for workers, for women, for the country. We now actually understand the terms of our exit, and we’re not simply voting for vague ideas about ‘taking back control’. You wouldn’t buy a house just from looking at the online RightMove ad, you’d go and visit it, check the contract, and only then decide whether to sign on the dotted line. That’s all a People’s Vote is: the opportunity to confirm our decision once we’ve learnt the terms of the contract. If Theresa May can take her deal back to parliament next week, even after it faced the biggest ever government defeat in parliament, why can’t she afford the public the same courtesy? It is the job of the opposition to make this point loud and clear.

The Labour Party was established to represent all and any of us who believe in social justice. That who you are, how much you earn, the body you are born into and the colour of your skin should not disadvantage your choices and opportunities. My vision of social justice includes feminism, the radical notion that women are people with political agency. When 73% of Labour’s women voters are in favour of a People’s Vote and 74% of them would vote to stay in the EU, coming out in favour of a People’s Vote is not just the democratic thing to do. It’s the feminist thing to do.

Jess Phillips is MP for Birmingham Yardley.

More from LabourList