When the majority of people who cast their vote in the 2016 referendum voted to Leave the European Union, Labour MPs had a choice. We campaigned to stay in the European Union and most of our supporters agreed, but there were certainly some Labour voters who decided to vote Leave.
Should Labour MPs continue to vote with the majority of their supporters and try to block the withdrawal process, or should they vote to allow the government – Theresa May’s government – to put together a deal to leave the EU smoothly?
The vast majority voted to trigger Article 50 because they believed the democratic will of the people needed to be respected, and I would have done the same if I had been an MP at that time.
But Theresa May’s Conservative government proved itself incapable of putting together a deal which the majority of MPs could support. Labour wasn’t going to support her deal when she gave us no chance to improve it. But the main reason her deal never passed was because the right-wing fringe of the Conservatives – including Boris Johnson – wouldn’t support it. As soon as she started talking to other parties to try to gain their support, the Conservative Party ditched her.
Johnson managed to get his dodgy deal agreed by the EU last month, and it passed its so-called “2nd Reading” in the House of Commons. We wanted the chance to amend it and so we voted for enough time to do so – it’s not possible to make serious amendments to a complicated Bill in just 3 days. There was no good reason for Johnson to pull the Bill altogether – he behaved like a petulant schoolboy taking the ball off the field because he didn’t like the off-side rule.
We voted against a snap General Election last time, because there was a real danger the Government could crash us out of the EU without a deal during that General Election campaign, without Parliament there to stop them. That danger is now passed – we can’t leave without a deal before January 31st, which gives us time to have a General Election before then.
That doesn’t mean we’re happy about the prospect of people having to vote in the cold and the dark, less than 2 weeks before Christmas. My preference would have been to amend Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill, including a confirmatory vote, and get it passed. But the only choice Johnson gave us was a Christmas General Election or two more months of futile bickering. That is why, reluctantly, we voted for a General Election.
We didn’t want a General Election until Brexit was sorted – it is Johnson who is now delaying Brexit, not the Labour Party. We wanted to make sure the British people were happy with whatever deal was agreed by having a confirmatory vote – it is the Conservatives who are being anti-democratic, not Labour.
We want a General Election which focusses on all the other issues that matter so much to the British people – low pay, the lack of housing for them and their children, long waiting lists for doctors and hospitals, oversized school classes and impossibly high tuition fees, the shortage of Police officers and the increase in knife crime. We know that Labour has the answers that voters are looking for, and we are confident of winning an election on those issues.
The Conservatives are trying to turn this election into a referendum on Brexit – but their attacks on Labour make no sense. It is the Conservatives who have been in power over the past 3 ½ years and failed to deliver Brexit. It is the Conservatives who are split right down the middle and have threatened the stability of this country in an attempt to keep their collapsing Party together. It is the Conservatives who have pulled the Withdrawal Bill and put off a viable Brexit deal for 3 more months just so they can try to gain party political advantage in a General Election.
Labour has a clear and workable programme to deliver a decision on Brexit. A Labour Government will agree a deal with Parliament and the EU – one far less damaging to our economy than Johnson’s deal – and then put that to the British people in a confirmatory vote. Within 6 months of a Labour win we will either have voted to leave and have left, or voted to remain and remained. There will be no more arguing. Now surely that is something worth voting for.