There is real peril for the Labour Party in the Brexit process if we appear keen to stop Brexit. Remember Walsall North, Mansfield, Stoke-on-Trent South and Middlesbrough – seats that have always been Labour or had only on rare occasions voted Tory. They had Leave votes of 65-75%, and all were lost in 2017. The vast majority of Labour seats voted to leave (estimates vary from two thirds to three quarters). If a small percentage of Labour Leave voters desert Labour, as they did in those four constituencies, we will lose rather than gain seats.
The EU referendum question was unconditional and unambiguous. Commitments were given on all sides that whatever the decision, the result would be honoured and implemented. Hilary Benn said it was “for the people, not MPs to decide”. Chuka Umunna, now prominent in the campaign to remain in the EU, stated: “A majority of one is sufficient.” Both Chuka and Hilary have now changed their tune. They both make the apparently sensible point that “nobody voted to make themselves poorer”. Of course they didn’t. Nor did they vote to make themselves richer, or anything else. They simply voted to get out. Adding extra conditions is casuistry of the worst kind.
Some who support this irrelevant statement of the obvious are blatant in their desire to stay in the EU and use novel parliamentary procedures in the Commons to this end. Others argue for a second referendum. How on earth could anybody trust another referendum when the one held in 2016 has not been honoured? Particularly when those supporting a further vote are precisely those Members of Parliament fighting tooth and nail to stop the first referendum being implemented.
Incidentally the evidence from serious properly conducted opinion polls is that the people don’t want a second referendum by 48% to 38%. (The leading pollster John Curtice has exposed the poor methodology with leading questions that lie behind the headlines saying there is a majority who want a further referendum.)
The EU debate has exposed a shallowness in our democracy that many did not suspect. The Remain establishment cannot believe the hoi polloi did not accept their advice to remain in the EU; they assume these people must be stupid or too old to reason. It has always been an essential part of our democracy that all votes are equal and that the minority accepts the majority decision. Both of these fundamentals are being challenged by the political establishment of the left and right whose sense of entitlement has overtaken their sense of democracy.
It is doubtful that there is a majority in the House of Commons for a referendum. So the campaign to Remain has focussed its attention on extending the negotiating time by revoking Article 50, or attempting to force the government to take ‘no deal’ off the table. To remove the threat to the EU of no deal is the equivalent of a trade union negotiator telling the management they would never go on strike. No deal/WTO is not ideal, but in absolute terms it damages the EU more than the UK. All 27 EU countries risk losing more jobs related to their trade than would the UK.
The EU has a long history of concluding deals at the eleventh hour. They will not do this if there is no defined end and we throw away our strongest card. The debate in the Commons has been punctuated by kindergarten language from the Remainers. The EU are apparently our friends and we should play nicely with them. These MPs at the back of the class should pay attention: Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said when he was appointed: “I have done my job if in the end the deal is so tough on the British that they prefer to stay in the EU.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s president and resident clown, famously stated that the United Kingdom should be punished to deter other countries from leaving.
The EU is not our cuddly classmate, but a self-interested, anti-democratic bureaucracy. Italy and Greece, having had their economies and democracies seriously damaged, know this to their cost. Jeremy Corbyn does too. The EU has presided over the slowest growing continental economy on the planet (except Antarctica) and the UK is now growing faster than the Eurozone. If, by parliamentary shenanigans, the largest single vote in our history is overturned, then we will have irreparably damaged the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. Labour must not let the electorate down.
Kate Hoey is MP for Vauxhall and Graham Stringer is MP for Blackley and Broughton.