I’m English, which means I have European blood and believe that my country ‘belongs’ in Europe. And I’m interested in our history. It is a matter of record that for millennia Europeans have continually fought each other, culminating in two devastating world wars. There’s a lot wrong about the European Union; most EU citizens, including myself, want to see some reforms. But this, for me, is the most precious thing about the EU – that since its foundation we have had peace. And of course, the EU is the largest trading bloc in the world. It makes no sense for a small country (admittedly far too self-important) to leave it. The very thought frightens me.
And this increases my fear: that we will be at the mercy of the rise of populism, right-wing politics and corporate bullying. I’m left-wing; I want politics that put people first. But the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the man who put together a Party manifesto full of policies that people backed; whose leadership saw a huge surge in Party membership; who claimed to want a Party where members’ views were paramount, now seems to be walking away from us. He appears to be backing Brexit against the wishes of the members. He won’t support the People’s Vote when 72 percent of members want one. Given such a vote, around 88 percent of members would vote to remain in the EU.
So I wrote this letter to him. Then I decided to make it an open letter. And now I sit here and wonder, if he won’t listen to many of us, will he listen to a few?
Dear Mister Corbyn
This is not a letter I thought I would ever have to write when I joined the Labour Party, but it has to be written.
I’ve heard you speak at many anti-war and anti-nuclear demonstrations and I’ve admired your determination to stand up against what you knew was wrong and immoral. I’ve watched political games for many years but never joined a party – until you came along. I knew – I thought I knew – what you stood for. I knew what policies your manifesto would offer. And I believed you were very international in your outlook. I looked forward to seeing how overbearing powerful world leaders would react to your non-confrontational approach, ‘jaw jaw always being better than war war’.
I joined the Labour Party full of hope, and from day one became an active member of my local CLP. And now I’m seriously considering whether I made a mistake.
For years I have backed the EU and the UK’s place in it, while always taking into account that there were parts of it that seriously needed reforming. Like many European citizens (and being English I am necessarily European, a statement I have been verbally abused for by Leave supporters) I wanted to see those reforms. So I joined two organisations that were working to that end. And now I find all of my energy is going towards trying to stay within the EU.
It goes without saying that I find your ‘sitting-on-the-fence’ attitude not just puzzling but unwise. I found myself trying to defend your position, making excuses for the Labour front bench. How embarrassing is that for a new enthusiastic member? I pointed out that perhaps you were worried about the party losing votes. After all, not a few Labour-held constituencies voted to Leave. Can’t claim that now, seeing that all those Leave constituencies have changed their minds and now back Remain.
You said that you had to honour the result of the Referendum. That’s democracy. But people were lied to (and both Leave and Remain campaigns left us very ill-informed). Too many voted Leave because they thought they were voting against the Tories. Too many people voted Leave because they had been persuaded to think that all this country’s problems were the fault of the EU when it was shoddy governance that was to blame.
Topping all that is the now-known fact that the Leave campaign was not only dishonest but illegally funded, and its main funder is under criminal investigation. As a court case is ongoing, it could be decided that the vote is null and void. That isn’t democracy. It’s not surprising that people have changed their minds.
Both Labour members and the country were told of the ‘6 tests’ that any Brexit deal had to pass. But a quick read showed that no Brexit deal of any kind would pass them. Trouble is, no Brexit deal put together by Labour would pass them either. To pass test number 2: “Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?” we’d have to stay in the EU, and the Norway option would be blocked by Norway. So why are you insisting that under a Labour government, Brexit would still take place? And that it would ‘renegotiate the Brexit deal. Do you seriously think renegotiating a deal would be possible?
No. The EU has stated very firmly and more than once that it will not do any more negotiation. Why should Labour follow the government’s stubborn and arrogant belief that anything the UK wants must override 27 other countries? The UK has passed the point of getting any favours from the EU, and you being Prime Minister instead of Theresa May won’t change that. They have been remarkably patient with our government’s negotiators, who constantly demanded but never produced even an outline of what Brexit meant to the UK. They have been insulted by our ministers, blamed for our incompetence and yelled at by Brexiters and the media when they repeated for the umpteenth time that EU regulations could not be overturned by the UK.
If, under your leadership, we leave the EU, you won’t be able to implement any of those social policies we all desperately need and wish for. Your government won’t have the money, and it would be too busy trying to pick a way through the mess we will be left in. And the mess will be bigger than we thought. I am not the only person aware that the government (or part of it) has been hiding a lot of information on the costs of Brexit and quoting only the most optimistic figures, as the Treasury Committee pointed out in their report released on 11th December 2018. Let the Tories collapse in that mess. Don’t take us into it as well.
Consider how many of us (around 350,000) joined Labour because you were the leader and offering a truly social government. You also said you wanted a much more democratic party, one where members would have the say on policy decisions. But now, you are not paying heed to your Party’s membership. So many of us support a People’s Vote (I was a supporter before its official launch), but at the Conference the ‘need’ to have a general election was given precedence.
Seeking a general election in the middle of this chaotic mess would be a truly national disaster for the Party and the country, as well as being politically self-indulgent. It puts Labour in the same position as the Conservatives – where the party’s survival matters more than the country and its people. Whether backing Remain or the People’s Vote, taking a strong stand on either will regain the respect that the Labour Party has lost over the last year. It will add to the membership and bring back lost supporters. And Labour helping to stop Brexit will hugely help it to win the next election.
We can’t undo David Cameron’s thoughtless error in calling a referendum just to keep some of his own backbenchers quiet. Nor can we undo his compounding of the error by staging the referendum before any real public or political debate as to what leaving the EU might entail. We cannot undo Theresa May’s error in assuming an advisory referendum where less than half of the total electorate voted to leave gave the government the mandate to do so. And we can’t undo her major error in going ahead with the Article 50 letter far too soon, and entering negotiations with a government that was totally unprepared and with neither knowledge nor negotiating skills.
If Theresa May’s deal gets voted down next week, and I sincerely hope that will be the case, then there are two options, and falling off the cliff with no deal is not one of them. Parliament can take charge and insist that Article 50 is revoked. That does not mean that at some point in the future we don’t return to the question of whether we stay in the EU or not. But any future debate will at least be far better informed.
Or MPs admit that they have lost control, and have no idea how to solve the problem, and decide to take it to the people and let them, whichever way they voted in the referendum, have their People’s Vote.
I don’t want to repeat the embarrassment I’ve felt for my country because of May’s mismanagement, by watching Labour tread the same road. I don’t want to find that my membership of the Labour Party becomes a brief flash in the pan. I don’t want to lose hope or feel despair for the future of this land I love. I don’t believe that, in a global, multicultural world, Britain ‘can be great again’, simply by going it alone. We lost the empire some time ago. The world, despite what Brexiters think, has moved on. And I don’t believe that Labour should be supporting Brexit.
So, Mr Corbyn, revoking Article 50 or a People’s Vote – which will it be?