I voted to Remain in the EU referendum and defended the position of staying in the EU passionately. This is not because I think the EU is perfect, as I have written many times before, but I felt that it was safer to remain in the EU and work hard at changing it than risk being alone on this Island subject to the whims of the Conservatives – or indeed even a resurgence of New Labour.
But since the vote came out as it did – in favour of leaving, in case you missed that – I do believe that we should leave. The economist and ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a staunch advocate for Britain remaining in the EU, also agreed to this point commenting – although I have now been unable to find a source to reference – in an interview that ignoring the outcome of the referendum would be a scandal; as it was for Ireland.
Whatever else happened last June, people were moved to participate in democracy at a scale that is unprecedented at general elections. I think people were surprised on both sides of the vote when we woke up on June 24th 2016 to the outcome; Remainers because we were gutted that we lost and Leavers because they couldn’t believe their vote actually counted for once.
I am tired of going to the polling booths each general election and having my vote count for nothing. So I couldn’t now advocate for the outcome to be ignored, no matter how much I think that voting to Leave was the wrong option. It was the wrong option because instead of securing freedom and sovereignty, it has secured free reign for the Conservatives to begin a neoliberal free-for-all. We have seen this already with calls for Britain to become a tax haven, protections for city interests and with Theresa May cosying up to Trump for trade deals that could ultimately open up the NHS to American private companies – and see us sued by those companies if future governments try to renationalise.
What I don’t agree with now though is “Brexit at any cost” or so-called “hard Brexit”. Labour were right to support the triggering of Article 50 whilst calling for amendments calling for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process.
It would have been better to wait to trigger Article 50 – and it is my belief that the rush to engage Article 50 is behind a shock and control plan of the Conservatives – but given that the Conservatives have a majority government, even if Labour had joined the likes of the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens to vote against it; it would have gone through anyway. All that Labour would have achieved in voting against triggering Article 50 would be to alienate those voters who voted to Leave and have probably been more attracted by the likes of UKIP in recent years.
Brexit has happened because people are disenfranchised; they feel that they haven’t been listened to, they felt ignored and powerless and took the action that they thought could correct that. If the EU referendum is ignored when are we going to start listening to people? What will be the consequences if the people are ignored again?
That said, if the Conservatives ignore the amendments – which is likely – then Labour should oppose triggering Article 50. Labour cannot and should not support a Brexit that gives absolutely freedom to the cronyism of the Tories.
We still have a chance to make the best of the bad situation of Brexit – this is what a real opposition party must call for.