Much worry has been expressed over the past year about Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit, but in the past few weeks he has shown some skill in adopting a position that brings Labour closer to its members, voters and, above all, values.
Jeremy is now promising to back a people’s vote in all circumstances – not just if it’s a Tory Brexit, but if we win the next election too.
Our party’s promise of a new referendum on Brexit stands now as a compromise between two extremes. On the one hand you have the far right of the Tory party now occupying Downing Street who want to impose a form of Brexit on the British people that is a million miles from what they once promised. On the other, some would overturn and revoke the result of the last referendum simply through a vote of parliament.
Either course will only deepen divisions in our country. Neither can be called democratic. The only fair way to solve this crisis and get a lasting settlement is by giving the people the final confirmatory say, as was done after the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
If, but only if, in the end it came to a stark choice between no deal and revoking Article 50, I might be prepared to vote for revocation, but only if the people were then asked to endorse that choice in a final referendum.
One of the main reasons we want this democratic solution is because none of us can trust Boris Johnson to solve the Brexit crisis.
Anyone tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt should remember he’s still allowing his “aides” to brief journalists about the possibility of suspending parliament a second time in October.
But if the prime minister does come back with some deal in the final days before the 31 October deadline and tries to crash it through parliament with the barely any scrutiny, Labour’s position should be clear: we would allow a deal to pass through parliament only if it was subject to a confirmatory referendum.
Whether it’s before an election or after an election, Labour won’t let Brexit be forced on the people without everyone getting the final say.
In contrast to an ongoing Brexit crisis, Labour’s pledge on a people’s vote would be delivered within months. No further renegotiation for years on end, no ifs, no buts. We would put it the people – a real Brexit option, not an impossible promise like Johnson’s.
That’s the way to get closure on this crisis and the clarity we need to move on from the past three years so we can start tackling all the other issues facing our country that have been ignored for too long.
I know that everyone in Labour wants to be able to concentrate on those other neglected issues. We haven’t always been totally united on Brexit, but there are values that run right across the party that can bind us together again.
We must not forget those values now because any form of Johnson Brexit – deal or no deal – would be the completion of a project of the right, for the right and by the right.
Every now and then, the mask slips, with reports in recent days confirming that the government is already plotting to remove the environmental protections previously promised by Theresa May. Johnson’s Brexit would deregulate our economy, cut taxes for the wealthiest and turn our country into the offshore, cost-cutting pirate state of Tory dreams.
It is why our socialist Labour values – open to the world and internationalist, not inward-looking and nationalist – mean that if we win our fight for a people’s vote, we should, in my view, be campaigning wholeheartedly for us to stay in the European Union. I can’t be neutral on Brexit. The effects on constituencies like mine will be too massive.
And it won’t just be me. I’ll be standing with Labour’s voters, Labour’s members, Labour trade unions, Labour MPs and Labour’s shadow cabinet in saying how we want to remain in and reform Europe.
We will be backing the campaign to stay in the EU not just because that’s in keeping with Labour’s traditional values, but also because working in the heart of Europe is all about the future we want to create.
So, if we want to tackle the towering challenges of today – climate change, inequality, corporate tax evasion, refugees, the way technology is changing work – it’s not just about what we can do in our country, it’s how much more we can do by cooperating with other countries.
Imagine what a radical Labour government could do at the heart of Europe, working with our sister socialist parties across the continent, trying to change Europe so it works for everyone.
Now think about how limited we would be if we left and had to press our faces against the window of the room where all our futures were being decided.
This weekend’s global protests against climate change show the potential for a progressive movement across borders. That’s why we know in our heads and in our hearts that Labour will campaign to stay in Europe.
Margaret Beckett is the Labour MP for Derby South
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