The European elections will be the most divisive in many years. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party wants the UK to leave the European Union with ‘no deal’. This, in my view, would be a bitter blow for the UK, leading to a hit to the economy with lower growth and reduced revenues for public services. All the evidence points to the North East, where I represent Sedgefield, being hit hardest by a no-deal Brexit. Those beguiled by such an outcome will be amongst the worst affected: over 60% of our region’s trade is with the EU. it would be a catastrophic mistake to slam the door closed on access to the European market.
I want better for our region and our country. In fact, although Nigel Farage is calling for a ‘no deal’ Brexit today, three years ago, it wasn’t his preferred option. He wanted a deal, which could keep us in the EU single market, so we could continue to trade with our largest trading partner. He said it would be easy to do. We could be like Norway or Switzerland, he told us. Well, I don’t want to be like Norway or Switzerland. I want to be like the UK, and the UK doesn’t accept second best or withdraw from the rest of the world – and that’s what a no deal Brexit means.
Whatever happens, Nigel Farage will be fine. He is rich and privileged. He is also a right wing, Thatcher-loving former City banker who wants to dismantle the NHS, only he won’t tell you that down the pub. I’ll never forget him resigning as leader of UKIP the day after the EU referendum. He revealed a man who wanted the right to grandstand but was not prepared to stay and take the responsibility to sort out the mess he had helped to create. A trip to America to meet Donald Trump was more important.
Brexit Party candidates like to say they are standing up for democracy, as if the overwhelming majority of the British people voted for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. But we all know that wasn’t the result. Yes, the vote was in favour of Leave but only by a margin of 52% to 48%. A margin, if it had gone the other way, led Nigel Farage to say back in 2016: “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way”. He didn’t rule out a second referendum – something else I suppose he wouldn’t remind you of over a pint.
I understand people are frustrated by the Brexit impasse in parliament. I know I am. I want to stand up in parliament and talk about other concerns, such as education and jobs. I want to see an end to austerity that has cut our public services to the bone. But I also know the decisions on future funding for the NHS are made in 10 Downing Street, not Brussels. So Brexit ultimately isn’t the answer.
I accept the country voted narrowly to leave the EU, but they didn’t vote on how to leave. The Prime Minister has negotiated a ‘deal’ with the EU. The deal may change, but I do believe what is agreed defines Brexit and should not be implemented unless the British people give their validation in a confirmatory public vote, with Remain as an option on the ballot paper. Labour has already whipped in support of this position on two occasions in the House of Commons.
People have the right to compare the Brexit facts with the promises made during the referendum three years ago and confirm whether they still want to go ahead with Brexit when faced with its reality. This is not to appease people – it is showing them respect, and that’s what I call democracy. What started with the people should end with the people. The people deserve a final say on our country’s future. To stop the Brexit Party and secure a confirmatory public vote, vote Labour on Thursday.