It is true that in the EU referendum, more people (52%) voted to leave than remain (48%) with the EU. But of the total electorate, that was 37% wanting to leave, 35% wanting to remain, and 28% that did not vote.
Adding many of the UK citizens living in the EU who were not allowed to vote, plus those under 18 (whose future we were voting on), and the ‘overwhelming’ victory for Brexit was based on about 27% of the true electorate. Nor were any EU citizens (apart from the Irish) resident in the UK allowed to vote.
The referendum should have been preceded by a parliamentary and public debate on what leaving the EU could or would result in. The whole pre-referendum campaign, on both sides, was ill-thought out, based on false claims and a total lack of real information allowing us to make an informed decision on how we voted, whether we wanted to leave or remain.
Nor was the referendum legally binding. It did not compel the government to insist that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. As Full Fact says, “That follows from the fact that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 didn’t say anything about implementing the result of the vote. It just provided that there should be one.” One way and another it seems we were all, Leavers and Remainers both, cheated of our democracy.
But Jeremy Corbyn believes wholeheartedly in democracy.
In the 2017 general election, he was constantly challenged on the fact that, while he had spent most of his political career opposing nuclear weapons, he had ‘allowed’ Labour MPs to vote for the renewal of Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system. His response was that because the Party had voted to back renewal at the Party conference, he had to go along with it. It was, he said, called democracy.
In a 2016 speech on anti-Semitism, Corbyn mentioned that ‘two thirds of Labour supporters voted Remain’, even though two thirds of Labour constituencies voted to leave. That leaves him with a dilemma. His team say they want a ‘membership-led’ party, where members are consulted on policies. So, put bluntly, the question is this: do you risk losing members or constituencies?
There is, of course, Labour Leave, not that it gets the same media attention as the dire UKIP. Has Corbyn been worried that, if Labour stood up for Remain, he’d end up with a ‘left-wing’ UKIP on the back benches? And some of their positions are not well-thought out (but then, the Remain side made a poor job of presenting its case to the public, concentrating wholly on money when a peaceful relationship with neighbouring nations is about much more than that).
For instance, Labour Leave says that “Membership of the EU hampers any attempt to nationalise the railways.” Not so; nothing in EU law stops nationalisation. You pay EDF for your electricity and gas? EDF is a French energy company, mainly publicly owned. Too often we all blame the EU for what our own governments have been responsible for, believing that it overrides our sovereignty and Parliament’s ability to make our laws. It doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party sits on the fence. They sort of, seem to, possibly, back a ‘soft’ Brexit, but in competition with the government nothing clear and definite comes out, even with Keir Starmer to head their views. It is a fudge, and is driving a lot of party members quite insane. How can they, we, how can I, justify membership of a party which is not standing up to defend the real future of our country and its citizens?
After all this time Corbyn, taking questions after a speech to a manufacturers’ organisation, has finally said something definite: “We have to have access to European markets, we have to have a customs union that makes sure we can continue that trade, particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is key to it.”
He also implied that Labour was not seeking any deregulation of the economy to undercut Europe, nor seeking any ‘sweetheart deals’ that would result in deregulation, as in USA and farming. But, and this is a big but, Labour is not looking for a single market, without which our trade would be sorely hampered.
Over 40% of our exports and 50% of imports involve EU countries. For that to continue profitably, we really need to be a member of the single market. We are the world’s 10th largest exporter and the 4th largest importer of goods, with a trade deficit of £220 billion (2016). One good example of how dependent the UK is on trade is this: we import more than half of our food.
Most of our trade deals have been negotiated via the EU and would have to be re-negotiated not only with the EU27, but with 75 other nations, even if we stay in the customs union post-Brexit. And no deal gets done overnight. It takes years , time that we don’t have. We don’t have the negotiators either, something that was not thought about when Theresa May triggered Article 50.
Why would such a long-time trading nation seek to leave the world’s biggest trading block? The EU is the top trading partner for 80 countries. The US is the top trading partner for a little over 20 counties. Do we really want to shrink our horizons in this way?
Now, I’m happy to be part of a small island that is past its glory days (well, glory for such as Rees Mogg) and I’d be more than happy to be part of a country that has finally discovered some humility and doesn’t keep banging on about ‘leading the world’. But I do want to know that I am part of Europe, not shut off from it as a result of the embarrassing attitudes of May’s ‘Brexit team’.
Which brings me to ‘freedom of movement’. Without the single market, we can’t have the freedom of movement within the EU we have enjoyed for years. They are equally important, allowing us to exchange services, research and education as well as goods. And, while EU workers can come here, helping us to fill many necessary jobs, we have the freedom to work (and holiday; let us not forget all those holidays in the Med) in the EU. And why should we strip that freedom from all our young people, whose future is being curtailed?
Many people voted for Brexit because of their genuine fears about immigration, particularly in northern England, sadly, the area which will be most badly affected by Brexit. But leaving the EU with its single market and freedom of movement will not solve the ‘problem’ of migration. Much of our everyday life depends on workers from the EU, as well as migrants from many other countries, because we’re suffering from a skills shortage in many services and industries, a shortage that could take years to correct.
Members’ views can no longer be ignored, particularly as we watch the disastrous shambles created by the government’s Brexit team. And, with a membership 3 times larger than the Conservative Party, Labour has a potentially vast team of canvassers ready to hit the streets, the phones and social media to ensure Labour constituencies stay Labour. And we need Jeremy Corbyn out there too.
So, Mr Corbyn:
If you want to protect the NHS, our schools, universities, scientific research, and farming: if you want to build social housing; and if you want our young people to be broadminded, adventurous and internationalist:
We need freedom of movement
If you want us to feed ourselves without huge price increases; to support our industries which export to the EU and the world and all those people whose jobs depend on our industries:
We need to be in the single market and the customs union
And that means staying with the EU.
But you already know all of that, so isn’t it time that you stood up for what the majority of your Labour members want – before you lose us and the country?
Lesley Docksey © 23/02/2018