I Kept My Seat, But The EU Elections Showed Labour's Brexit Policy Has Failed

May 30, 2019

This article was first published on HuffPost on 30 May 2019

 

As a Labour MEP I’m pleased to see the Tories wiped out in London and falling to their worst vote in living memory – but there’s no point in trying to pretend that the European elections were anything other than awful for Labour.

I held my seat, but I saw lots of good colleagues and candidates lose as voters sent us a very clear message that we needed to come off the fence over Brexit.

Yes, there were some Labour people went off to Nigel Farage. But the overwhelming majority of our lost voters went to the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and other parties firmly in favour of giving the public the final say on Brexit. 

The Lib Dems don’t need me to promote them, but the 20% rise in their vote was no accident. London is a Labour city and it’s truly shocking to see us in second place to them.

Given the scale of the Labour reverse it’s obvious something needs to change. But what? It has never been a secret that I want Labour to find its voice on Brexit – it is the key issue of our times and Labour can no longer afford to have a mealy-mouthed and fundamentally equivocal position. We have to speak clearly, with confidence and mean what we say. Brexit would be a disaster for the communities we represent, and we must have the courage to say so. 

Labour’s policy must now reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of our members and supporters across the UK. Otherwise we risk the disaster of last night translating into a devastating defeat at the next general election.

We need to be the party that leads the fight back against Nigel Farage and his latest attempt to make the politics of hatred and bigotry look normal and respectable.  We must take the battle to him and expose his reheated lies and false promises.

The lack of clarity around Labour’s policy was a deliberate attempt to split the difference between different groups. Today, it should be clear to everyone it has failed.

There are some who will read this and dismiss it as an attack on Labour’s leadership or a proxy for a battle over who will control the Labour Party in the future. But it is nothing of the sort. It is an argument about what is the best for our country, our party and for Jeremy Corbyn too.

I know Jeremy cares deeply about party democracy, so now he needs to listen to our members and our voters.

The minority who seek to frustrate the express will of our membership and our voters need to ask themselves whether the price they are willing to play is defeat at the next election, the destruction of tens of thousands of jobs, as well as deep and lasting damage to our public services and our place in the world.

The stakes could not be higher and the issue could not be more urgent because, even as Labour wake up to what our voters want to see, I am still deeply fearful about what will now happen in the Conservative Party.

Over the weekend, candidates to succeed Theresa May have embarked on an arms race over who can take the most extreme position on Brexit as they compete against each other for the support of the 160,000 Conservative Party members who will pick the next Prime Minister. 

But whoever wins this summer will find the maths in Westminster have not unchanged. That’s because there is no form of Brexit that can meet the promises made for it and therefore no stable majority for any specific way of leaving the EU. 

The prospect of the new prime minister trying to force a no-deal Brexit on Parliament and the British people by running the clock down to the October 31 deadline would be a democratic and constitutional outrage. The consequences for businesses, jobs and the possible break-up of the UK would be hung around the necks of those responsible for a generation to come.

It would be massive mistake for MPs on any side to conclude the lesson from these elections is that there is somehow a mandate for the catastrophic crash-out from the EU that Nigel Farage is calling for.

He may have won the most votes, but he didn’t win a majority for a no-deal of Brexit any more than there was a mandate for it in the last referendum, when Farage and just about everyone else on the Leave side were telling us how easy it would be to get a deal.  

Instead, it’s time to recognise the only democratic way to solve this crisis and establish a lasting settlement over Brexit, is to put this crucial question back to the people.

Whether you want to leave the EU or to stay in, A People’s Vote can unlock the Brexit process in Parliament, secure a stable majority in Westminster and legitimise the outcome.

We need to use the aftermath of these elections to end the chaos around Brexit. We need to listen and to change. We need to hand this decision back to the people. 

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