A call for a referendum on the terms
On 11 December 2017, while Parliament debated the petition calling for a referendum on the terms, the Chair wrote to Keir Starmer MP.
By e-mail: [email protected]
Dear Sir Keir
BREXIT: A REFERENDUM ON THE TERMS
Brexit is a luxury for the few – EU membership is a necessity for the many.
I congratulate you on the steps that you have taken to hold the government to account on Brexit. Thank you.
I urge you now, on behalf of London4Europe, to go further and provide the electorate with the means to have the final say on Brexit once the terms are known, whether to go through with it or to Remain in the EU.
We know that Brexit is not turning out as promised in the Leave campaign. The Irish border question is just the most prominent recent example. But it is clear that - no matter who undertakes the negotiation - the ‘exact same benefits’ of the Single Market and the Customs Union are not going to be available to a country that will not accept freedom of movement, ECJ jurisdiction or budget payments. You know how long the list of broken promises is.
Nonetheless, when MPs come to exercise their vote at the end of the Brexit process they will still have to have some regard to the 2016 referendum. It will be the last major popular democratic statement on the question. Even in the 2017 election both main parties made only vague promises about Brexit.
But neither side in the electorate will readily accept the result of a Parliamentary vote that goes against their wishes. Leave voters will not see as valid a decision by MPs to cancel Brexit in spite of the 2016 referendum. Remain voters will not accept a decision to go through with Leaving the EU, when the Brexit on offer in 2018 will be so different from that promised in 2016.
What had begun with a referendum can only be confirmed or stopped by another referendum. MPs could set up a referendum when they have the meaningful vote in late 2018 or so. But that would leave little time for campaigning and organisation.
It would be far better to put the referendum on the statute book now to be held once the terms are known in late 2018/early 2019. That way both Government and Opposition, both Remainers and Leavers, would focus on persuading the electorate of the merits of their case (Leave campaigners have largely stopped trying, just citing the will of the people).
For Labour such a move would be popular with the people who do and might vote for it. Professor John Curtice’s 17 February 2017 article “Is Labour’s Brexit dilemma being misunderstood?” (King’s College London) found even in Leave constituencies, Labour voters supported Remain. Labour’s present stance is incomprehensible to most of its voters.
Nor should the over-riding desire for a Labour government point you to support Brexit. It would be harder to implement social democratic goals with the weaker economy and inward-looking society that Brexit would bring. The young electorate who voted Labour wanted the UK to become more like Scandinavia, not like the socialist states of the past.
Nor would leading a call for a referendum even be ahead of the electorate. Now half the country supports a referendum on the deal (Survation/ Mail on Sunday 3 December 2017).
Labour would do better to face up to its divisions by replicating the methods of 1975 when prominent Labour figures could be found on both sides of the referendum campaigns. Let Momentum call for Brexit while the social democrats in Labour call for Remain.
It does not matter whose amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill obtains the referendum. What matters is that Labour ensure that it is accepted. Anything else would be a betrayal of the young who voted Labour not to have Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit, but to have no Brexit.
You have a great opportunity now to lead safely, with half the country and most Labour voters and supporters behind you. I urge you to take it and legislate for a referendum on the terms with the option to Remain.
London4Europe is the London section of the non-party European Movement UK