The Labour Party will back, and may propose, a referendum on the Brexit deal with an option to stay in the EU. If our Brexit is rejected on Wednesday, we will back a public vote on the deal. It follows our conference decision from September, and without a Labour Brexit under negotiation, backing a vote to let the people decide where we go from here is the best route to smashing a Tory Brexit, avoiding no deal and getting ourselves back on track to rebuild Britain – something the country is crying out for.
Theresa May has left us no choice. It is nearly two years since Keir Starmer announced Labour’s six tests on Brexit – and if the government had delivered on those tests, Labour would have backed her deal.
May’s government didn’t properly engage with our front bench – and hasn’t for the past two years. Parliament has been a bystander on Brexit, dictated to and locked out of the process, and the opposition’s suggestions have been routinely ignored by the prime minister. After nearly two years of negotiations, the government’s intransigence and incompetence has left us with a terrible deal that our own Treasury tells us will make Labour’s heartlands suffer more than anywhere else in the country.
As the country enters a crucial last few weeks, Labour needs to stand on its new platform united.
Europe has been the Tory party’s kryptonite for decades, sapping it of strength at key moments. Whatever we think about Europe in the Labour ranks, we cannot and must not allow the same thing to happen with our party. Putting a credible form of Brexit to the people and offering Remain as an alternative will give Labour the chance to unite as a party. We can show the country how we intend to rebuild Britain – with more resources, closer international alliances and greater security, as part of a wider global community that seeks to deliver for the many, not the few.
The votes this week are important, and Labour will fight for the Cooper-Letwin amendment to stop Theresa May pulling the rug from under us every time she wants to shift the vote. The biggest votes will then come on 12-14 March, and parliament must ensure that a catastrophic no-deal scenario is taken off the table. If this does not happen, the Labour movement have a tradition of putting big constitutional changes to the people, and this should be no different.
Any Labour MP that helps to deliver this damaging Tory Brexit would be giving oxygen to a political project that is diametrically opposed to all Labour traditions. We must stand strong and not allow the arch-deregulators Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson to use Brexit as a Trojan horse to dismantle the rights and protections we have built up in our country for workers and consumers over the past four decades.
Similarly, try as he might to give himself a green makeover, Michael Gove’s measures, such as banning plastic straws, are only a drop in the ocean of what is needed to stop our country burning up and our oceans dying. Working with our colleagues in Europe, Labour can take the lead on this agenda – only we have a programme radical enough to respond to what our own kids are asking us to do when they take to the streets. Our own nation of Greta Thunbergs are telling us that we’re not doing enough, and we shouldn’t screw up their birthright. They aren’t interested in hearing all the reasons why change can’t happen; they want to hear when it will change.
When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership – not once, but twice – and defied the mainstream media’s expectations to gain Labour seats in the 2017 election, it was no surprise to those of us who have always backed Corbyn and his agenda for change. This is as true today as it was then, and I will fight alongside my Labour colleagues around the country to make sure we deliver what is so desperately needed, providing for the Labour heartlands that voted for change in 2016 and have been so devastatingly let down by this Tory regime.
This change must begin by giving the people a choice on where we go from here, and allow them to tell politicians the kind of relationship they want with Europe. Then maybe, just maybe, the country can begin to move on, and politicians will be forced to remember that the vast majority of people in the country have far more important challenges to deal with in their lives than the ins and outs of Westminster.
Clive Lewis is the Labour MP for Norwich South and a shadow treasury minister
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