Brexit is too dangerous to be left in the hands of the Brexiteers
Trying to reverse a democratic decision made at the ballot box is a waste of time and resources. Worse than that, it risks handing over the negotiations to the Hard Brexiteers and their extreme nationalist/neo-liberal agenda. When the Lib Dems attempted to stand on an anti-Brexit stance in 2017, they gained all of four seats and an even smaller percentage of the total vote than the previous general election. Very evidently, the public have no interest in reversing the decision made in 2016 and so, for the moment, that is what we must assume that Brexit is going to happen and prepare accordingly.
I have heard many die-hard Remainers argue that Jeremy Corbyn, because he is the leader of the largest political party in Europe and the most popular politician in the UK at present, has the power to turn around Brexit unilaterally by campaigning for Brexit to be stopped. This is, at best, wishful thinking.
Most people believe that when you go to the ballot box, the result should be respected. When the incumbent Tory lost in my constituency last summer he famously walked out of the counting hall in a huff (an incident which has since been set to music) but he didn’t contest the result. If the Government – whoever it is – chooses to ignore the result of the referendum, it would set a dangerous precedent and send a message to the public “well, we don’t care what you think, we know better”. No serious politician would ever countenance doing such a thing without undermining their own legitimacy as an elected representative. If Corbyn were to unilaterally decide to oppose Brexit, this decision would offend the core beliefs that people in a mature democracy hold about going to the ballot box and would have disastrous effects both on our democracy in the long term and on the Brexit negotiations themselves.
Inevitably, the Labour Party would be thrown into a crisis and there would be much confusion and public anger at Corbyn for “defying the will of the people”. This would become a deafening cry, drowning out all other political discussion and with everyone focused on what Corbyn and the Labour Party are doing. The door would be wide open for the Tories to shape the Brexit deal in their favour, against the interests of ordinary working people. Fewer people and less time will be spent scrutinising the Government’s actions. The Tories would be able to present themselves as the guardians of democracy and the Brexiteers, emboldened, would trail a banner marked “the will of the people” as they push for a hard, hard Brexit against an opposition now once more in disarray
So what is the alternative?
Although Labour cannot oppose Brexit outright, thanks to it’s positive, transformative manifesto at the last election which upset Theresa May’s once solid majority in the House of Commons, it is now in a strong position (as we have already seen in the past few months) to influence the course of the Brexit negotiations as the hung Parliament flexes it’s muscles against Theresa May’s stunted minority Government.
Since Labour represents working people in Parliament it’s natural priority must be jobs and workers’ rights and it is on that basis that recent party policy regarding Brexit has been written; hence the pledge to stay in the customs union. After decades of legal integration, creating an entirely new deal should take at least ten years. Instead we have two and nobody knows exactly how this is going to work out (least of all the Government, it appears, since they apparently haven’t bothered to do all of those impact studies we were promised). But Labour’s position is clear: whatever the deal is, it must be optimal to protect jobs, workers’ rights and human rights – nothing else matters as much as those things.
A crumb of comfort, if you are still unconvinced: it is difficult to imagine that the Government (whoever it is by the end of the negotiations) could actually carry out Brexit without a referendum on the final deal. The matter will need to be put to rest or else the opposition (whoever that may be) will forever argue, whenever anything goes wrong, that the other side took the country out of Europe on a deal less advantageous than it could have been without even getting the consent of the British people first. At that time, we Remainers will have a choice to make about whether we accept a deal that will almost certainly be a fudge designed to minimise the damage, or, take a chance and vote down the deal in the hope that this will open up the opportunity for another referendum to take us back into the EU. The further possibility that an even worse deal might be negotiated instead makes this a very risky position to take. Who knows, perhaps the terms of the deal may be acceptable to you – if say, it protects human rights and freedom of movement but removes restrictive state-aid laws – then you may even wish to consider voting in favour of the deal.
Regardless, until that time, we have to assume that Brexit is going to happen and, just like every business, family, charity and individual, we must plan accordingly. Trying to wash our hands of the affair and opposing Brexit outright creates the very real risk of a Brexit deal dictated entirely by a Tory Party now dominated by a Eurosceptic and fervently right-wing faction whose ambition it is to turn Britain into little more than an off-shore tax haven on the edge of Europe. If you consider yourself any shade of progressive you must not allow that to happen.
It is time to focus on getting the best deal we can, because a much worse fate than Brexit lies in leaving it in the hands of the Brexiteers.