The vote to leave the European Union creates so many risks that it is hard to know where to focus our efforts. Top of my list of priorities is the need to protect the European Union against the threat of resurgent nationalism. UKIPand partner far-right parties across the continent are clear that winning the UK referendum is just a start. The EU has held their odious politics of hate at bay for 70 years and their aim is to break the union and return to the era where nations competed rather than cooperating – often with tragic consequences. Whether you voted to Leave or Remain, we all want our continent to be at peace and not to lose our children in wars as our great- grandparents did.
Given that Labour is exuding confusion on the issue of Brexit, I believe we must make a clear case for remaining as close to the EU as possible, the so-called ‘soft Brexit’. As part of the single market, we would continue to accept freedom of movement and a mass of other legislation on everything from energy-efficiency targets to food labelling. Although this is often discussed as being an economic priority, it is in fact much wider and covers many aspects of our lives. Without keeping this close relationship, we risk allowing the Tories to launch us in a race to the bottom on environmental and social standards, not to mention turning the UK into the world’s largest tax haven, as some of them are already looking forward to with glee.
In a country where neoliberal policies mean many large businesses now trade globally and are foreign-owned, as an MEP representing ve million people in South West England, a clear task for me is to protect their livelihoods against the dangers of a ‘hard Brexit’. Hence, I have been surprised to find myself arguing to protect jobs in Japanese car factories in Swindon and nance- sector jobs in Bournemouth. It is my clear conviction that we need an urgent transition to a green economy, but pushing our economy off a cliff is not going to achieve this.
The Prime Minister is presiding over a battle within her own party between these two options; her recent conference speech suggested that the hard Brexiteers were winning. To conceal this conflict, she is refusing to make public any details of what Brexit will mean for 64 million British people. Now we see who is really taking back control. Vital decisions about our future will be fought over within the Tory party, a shocking closed circle and a slap in the face for those who voted Leave on the basis of enhanced sovereignty. Without proper parliamentary scrutiny we are writing a blank cheque to the three Brexiteers (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis; Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson; and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox) and allowing them to pick apart a rich tapestry of legislation passed at Westminster and in Brussels over the past 40 years.
May’s mistitled Great Repeal Bill is really a piece of legislation that will transpose into UK law all currently existing EU law. But don’t be fooled. This is a first step and the wolves are already circling to attack what they have called ‘spirit crushing regulation’ on issues such as habitat protection, workers’ rights, and climate change action. In response, we have argued that to truly ‘take back control’, what we need instead is a Great Reform Bill to match that passed in the 19th century when people’s dissatisfaction with destructive government could no longer be contained. Such a bill would restore democracy by introducing proportional representation, a democratic House of Lords and a written constitution to truly ‘build a country that works for everyone’.
Although there is no appetite for a second referendum now, I believe that we should argue for a clear and democratic choice when the terms of the negotiation are clear. It is quite valid for a decision with such huge national consequences to be taken in two stages. The 23rd June referendum was a vote against the EU, but the 52 per cent have widely differing views of what that would mean in practice. Once we have a clear sense of what it will mean in reality, it is a democratic necessity to be allowed to vote again.
Strategy is about using limited resources to achieve clear aims. If you disagree or have ideas to offer as we develop this strategy, please join the Brexit policy working group.