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An open letter to Keir Starmer
20 Aug, 2018

Time to demand the shadow cabinet backs a People’s Vote

 

The first post in this series showed that Jeremy Corbyn is seeking a hard Brexit. In spite of his efforts, to date Keir Starmer has been unable to prevent that from within the shadow cabinet. Indeed he has offered gravitas to underpin the fantasies and deceptions of his leader. It is not going to get any better. He should offer the Labour Cabinet one last chance to back the People’s Vote – Labour Remainers in the party are fighting for that as the second post in this series showed. If the Shadow Cabinet do not run with that, he should consider whether to maintain his position in the shadow cabinet or to find his natural home as a leader of the Remain movement. As the third post in this series, London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes an open letter:

 

You can write your own letter to: keir.starmer.mp@parliament.uk

 

Dear Keir Starmer

The leading advocates of a hard Brexit are Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Theresa May - and Jeremy Corbyn.

Not only that, but Corbyn maintains a faith in have-your-cake-and-eat-it Brexit and a Brexit dividend for public spending that even the Conservative government has backed away from.

You are supporting Jeremy Corbyn, taking the country to a hard destructive Brexit.

You know that there is no such thing as a good Brexit, a Brexit that would meet your six tests.

You are not one of those who believes that a hard Brexit is needed to implement true Labour policy. Of course, those who support Lexit have been shy about saying what their true intentions are. The ostensible reasons – for example that EU membership would prevent railway nationalisation – have been disproven, again and again. But we know that Jeremy Corbyn wishes to take the UK outside the European political mainstream – otherwise why have Brexit? You have never suggested that you are anything but a social democrat, quite at home with the mainstream of social democrat policies which can be and have been delivered in the EU.

You are clearly frustrated by opposition. You may think that supporting Brexit is the best way to a Labour government. But that depends on “strategic ambiguity”. That is another way of saying “misleading the electorate about what Labour stands for”: (in December 2017 over half of student Labour voters thought that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour stood for Remain; over 40% of Labour voters thought the same). A victory based on people so comprehensively misunderstanding Labour’s position on the key issue facing the country would have been won by shameful means.

You may think that EU immigration has to be cut to win seats in the North. But then Jeremy Corbyn and you have to stop making those speeches where you say that it is wrong to blame immigrants for austerity and bad employers. If as a matter of policy you are going to treat EU immigrants as harmful you have to justify that policy – in the face of all the evidence (click here for a summary and here for a short video). And remember, even in Leave-voting seats most Labour voters voted Remain.

You may have thought that you could ameliorate Brexit or at least Labour’s stance. That has not worked. In his pursuit of a hard Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out EEA membership – the only single market on offer and instead promised all the trade benefits of the single market with none of the duties; and a fantasy customs union where the UK would have more privileges than an EU member state. You know that without both single market membership and a customs union there will be a hard border in Northern Ireland undermining the peace there – and you have said “how precious and precarious the peace process is”.

You say that it would be corrosive of political trust for Brexit to be abandoned. That would be true if the Government just chucked it. But it cannot be true of a people’s vote. The people cannot betray themselves. But they can vote differently on Brexit-the-plan once they know what it means than they did on Brexit-the-idea when they were given many conflicting and empty promises.

You think that muddling through on Brexit will keep the party together. But the 1975 referendum, with Labour figures campaigning on both sides of the argument, provides a better lesson, pointing to a referendum on the terms of Brexit. James Callaghan thought of the referendum as “a rubber life-raft into which the whole Party may one day have to climb”. Harold Wilson, the only Prime Minister to have triumphed over the European issue in British politics, was pleased by the effect of the referendum in his time. He wrote in his memoirs: “The highest aim of leadership is to secure policies adequate to deal with any situation, without major confrontations, splits and resignations. It may be bad for the headlines and news placards, but it has been sought and achieved by our greatest leaders, …”. It has not worked for the Conservatives because the 2016 referendum left open what Brexit was while making undeliverable promises. A referendum on the terms would settle the question.

Surely, you have reached the end of the road where a man of integrity could continue to support a policy with which you fundamentally disagree. You cannot see a single benefit from Brexit. You are right. Now what?

You should present the shadow cabinet with an ultimatum: come out now – in line with the 2016 Labour Party Conference resolution - for a People’s Vote where each member of the electorate has the chance to cast their ballot on the question: accept the Government’s Brexit terms or Remain in the EU. Labour should put its backing behind the necessary legislation as soon as possible.

What if that does not become Labour party policy? There is a natural home for you in politics as a leader of the Remain movement. Your speeches make that clear. You have identified that Brexit is a distraction and a hindrance to the real problems that you see afflicting Britain. You said: “Yes, there were concerns about the functioning of the EU, … . But there was also a desire felt by people in many parts of the country that politics and the economy no longer worked for them or their communities. The Brexiteers offered false hope that by voting to leave the EU all that would change. But the truth is that Brexit cannot tackle stagnant wages, resolve a chronic skills gap, reduce unequal growth across the UK or improve underfunded public services. Brexit cannot mend public trust in politics or build more cohesive communities.” You called for “a transformational programme for Britain to tackle the deep inequalities exemplified by the referendum vote.”

Brexit would at the least delay and make all that harder. No-one wishing to have a national project of tackling any of these problems would say “let’s first leave the EU, let’s first spend years of Government energy and time dealing with the fall-out of that decision, let’s cut the resources available to the State”.

It is time for a break. It is time for a man of integrity and courage to lead the way.

Yours sincerely

 

 

{when you write, give your full name and street address so that he knows whether you are a constituent. Keir Starmer explicitly seeks the views of non-constituents in connexion with his Brexit role.}

 

 

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