A radical Labour keynote speech on the UK and the EU
[This is what Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition should be saying. Yes I know I’m biased but it helps to get it off my chest. The blame for the 23 June debacle lies primarily with Cameron, but secondarily with the ineptitude of the current Labour Party.]
Brexit means Brexit.
Except that no one knows what Brexit means. You can keep repeating this motto as long as you like. It remains locked in a verbal merry-go-round. If you don’t know that the words mean, then the sentence, however potent, is meaningless.
Brexit means Brexit? Well, tautology means tautology.
During the referendum the British people were sold lies – from both sides – and were incited against each other and against foreigners. Some of you bought these lies.
There was no manifesto for the Leave campaign, so the peddlers of the lies cannot now be held to account. Although Prime Minister May seems to be trying to do so by putting the Brexit boys in charge of finding a dignified way out of the morass. And if that is indeed what she is trying to do then I commend her for this, if for nothing else.
But don’t let the Tories fool you. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is another Tory attempt to hoodwink the people, just like they did with the referendum and with Cameron’s hyped-up renegotiation of UK membership, which no-one really believed.
Brexit means Brexit is a ploy to detract attention from the government’s own incompetence in getting us into this mess, through a swift changing of the guard, swapping a complacent Etonian with a busy Oxonian.
You see, the referendum was never about the interests of the country.
The Tories needed open-heart surgery to get over their Europe fixation. Except with the referendum, they were allowed to inflict the ordeal on the nation as a whole, with uncertain consequences far beyond Britain’s shores.
A thin majority of voters voted for Brexit.
There were, according to the Electoral Commission, 46,499,537 registered voters in June 2016. 17,410,742 voted to leave the EU – that is, 37% of the registered voters voted to leave. 35% of the electorate voted to stay.
Most of the remaining 28% of the electorate were presumably not bothered either way.
Is it responsible democratic government to rush to action against the economic, environmental and strategic interests of our nation, purely on the basis that 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and 35% to stay?
Let’s compare this with the vote to join the Common Market in 1975. In that referendum, 43% of registered voters voted to join the EEC against 21% to stay out. That looked like a fair mandate.
The trouble is that referendums have no constitutional place in the UK, so they can be used by political chancers like Cameron to fix party political problems which, until this year, were never a problems for the country.
We must never allow a party – of whatever colour – to hold the country to ransom in that way again.
People have drawn comparisons with the lower voter numbers who delivered landslide victories to Blair and Thatcher.
But that is simply an indictment of the winner-takes-all electoral system. (Which we must fix too.)
At least in a General Election the outcome is only valid for a maximum five years, there is an opposition to the elected government, and there is representation at a local level to reflect the wishes of the majority of the constituency.
We had a vague, dumbed-down referendum on 23 June. No one know what we were voting for, so it acted as a waste bucket for all our problems. And with the referendum, if we allow the Tories to get away with it, there is no going back.
I recognise that people voted against the EU because they believed that the EU was responsible for too much immigration, for pressure on public services and underspending on the NHS, for the watering down of our national identity, for lack of accountability of the elites, for inefficient bureaucracy.
But I do not recognise the vote as a mandate to leave the EU in a way that harms the UK economy, its environment and its strategic interests, that weakens protection of human rights, that causes division within the country, that is used to legitimise hate crimes against people considered to be different.
So until then, with Labour in opposition, we will demand remaining in the EU until the Tories can tell us what they mean by Brexit:
What Brexit will mean for poor communities across Britain.
What Brexit will mean for ever growing inequalities in our country, and for the long term stagnation in median wages which hits ordinary working women and men.
What Brexit will mean for race relations.
What Brexit will mean for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
We will then demand a clear mandate from the people for taking us out of the EU on those terms.
But with a Labour Government, we will stay in the EU, and yes we will try to reform it.
And we will get on with fixing the real problems, which the people have told us need fixing.
So let the Tory Party mop up its own vomit.
We have real work to do for Britain.