Newcastle upon Tyne voted almost straight down the line in the Brexit referendum – 50.7% to stay, 49.3% to leave. My region, the North East, as a whole voted definitively to leave by 58% to 42%. As a Love Socialism Hate Brexit MP who now argues for a confirmatory vote, I am often asked by the media, ‘what would you say to Leave voters?’
They ask the question as you might ask what I would say to an estranged family member who managed to track me down – apparently not realising that I am out on Newcastle doorsteps every weekend, and almost every day with the local and European elections. I am often talking to determined Leave voters.
And this is what I say to them: I tried. I tried so hard. I spent nights studying Venn diagrams of customs union, European Economic Area, European Free Trade Area and the single market overdrawn with both the Norway and the Canada models.
I tried really hard. I spent days drawing supply chain routes from Sunderland to Port of Tyne to Hamburg to Lille, figuring out the implications for our regional manufacturing.
I tried really hard. I spent long evenings listening to Tory MPs explain to me how many alternative arrangements can dance on the head of a backstop unicorn.
I tried really hard. I read Mrs May’s runes for two and a half years, trying to follow the implications of the Lancaster House red lines for the Chequers deal and the withdrawal agreement whilst she ignored parliament and the Labour Party.
I tried really hard to follow which wing of the European Research Group was in ascendance on any given day and what the Brexiteers might actually agree on and then sat and watched as a Tory Prime Minister lost by the greatest margin ever in the history of parliament. Not because the opposition opposed it ,but because Tories opposed their own deal.
I tried really, really hard – and yet the Tories would not allow it. If Labour had won the 2017 election, we would have left Europe on March 31st 2019 with a customs union, meeting our six tests – the least worst option. But we didn’t, and they couldn’t pull off any agreement, and now their extreme right Brexiteers are trying to trash our economy, environment and workers’ rights so they can make a killing offering them to their friends as a firesale for Trump’s America.
I can’t allow that to happen. Not without a confirmatory vote, at the very least, to ensure that Brexit is really what people want. I am not saying it brings Leave voters round to my way of thinking but I am pretty sure they know where I stand. And, generally, they respect that.
It is often the conversations with determined Remain voters that are more difficult. I say to them that, like Jeremy Corbyn, I am a die-hard internationalist. I’m determined to work across European institutions with our comrades in the Party of European Socialists to build a social Europe that works for the many not the few.
I say that only the Labour Party can address many of the underlying reasons people voted for Brexit – the widening inequality and lack of social justice. And I say that, like the vast majority of Labour members and most MPs and MEPs, I believe in a confirmatory vote to give people the final say, so that any Brexit will have to be explicitly mandated by the people and not simply enabled by our party.
There is so much more that I want to say to Leavers and Remainers alike. Our commitment to a Green New Deal and our mission-based industrial strategy to create new, green, sustainable jobs. Our plans to invest in social care and the NHS. Our proposals to make buses deliver for local people again, so important in Newcastle. Our national investment bank and our national transformation fund to give us the infrastructure and the regional investment we need.
But for many, particularly Labour-supporting Remainers, our position on Brexit has become the policy that matters. They want a clear, passionate articulation of what it is and how it reflects Labour values. That is what Love Socialism, Hate Brexit will be doing throughout these European elections and on our roadtrip, campaigning to put our great Labour candidates into the Socialist grouping of the next European parliament – and making the case for a confirmatory vote on Brexit.
Chi Onwurah will be at Durham Indoor Bowling Club, Abbey Road, DH1 5GE, this Saturday 11th May 2019 from 2pm to 4pm for the Love Socialism Hate Brexit Roadshow.
Love Socialism Hate Brexit is a group of radical and socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter here.
This article was amended on May 10th at 11.40am to remove an expletive that was originally spelt with asterisks by the author but spelt out in full in line with LabourList editorial policy.