Neil Coyle MP: There is no such thing as a good Brexit, so Labour should back revoking Article 50

Posted On: 
17th September 2019

Labour should follow the Lib Dems by calling for Article 50 to be revoked, says Neil Coyle MP.

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Remain during the 2016 referendum.
Credit: 
PA Images

Forty-seven 47 Labour MPs did not vote to trigger Article 50 in 2017, including me. I remain proud of that vote.

The damage done to the UK since justifies that position on a daily basis. Jobs lost, the economy damaged, the pound hit, investment falling in crucial sectors, and a Government trying to subvert democracy by unlawfully suspending Parliament. No MP should be proud of contributing to that dreadful reality.

Theresa May was forced to give MPs a vote on Article 50 by the courts. She called it with no plan, no agreement drafted, with no detailed discussions with EU partners underway, and with no agreement within her own Cabinet, let alone one that could possibly carry her ERG backbenches. She twice had to seek an extension to Article 50. The EU provided the last extension on condition the UK ‘use the time wisely’. No one can seriously suggest this has happened.

A handful of Labour colleagues, including Stephen Kinnock, have suggested May’s deal should be brought back with tweaks. That solves nothing; it would be defeated a fourth time unless it guaranteed a confirmatory referendum. Kinnock’s small grouping claims everyone wants a deal now, ignoring the six million people who signed the ‘Revoke Article 50’ petition. He also worryingly parrots the ‘biggest democratic exercise’ myth about the 2016 referendum, aiding Banks and Farage’s narrative whilst ignoring the undermining of democracy in the corrupt funding, deceit, and law-breaking involved in the Leave campaign. It is also the case that more people voted in the 1992 general election but perhaps that bit of democracy is understandably deleted from the collective Kinnock family memory. 

It is astonishing to see a small number of Labour colleagues pretending that an agreement would be anything other than a downgrade for their constituents and the wider UK compared to full EU membership. May’s agreement ignored 80% of the economy in the service sector and would harm my London constituency as well as huge swathes outside the capital. Manufacturing has already been dealt a hammer blow and May’s plan was simply not enough to guarantee jobs for the future. Re-hashing those proposals is no solution and repeated extensions of Article 50 whilst jobs are lost and investment plummets is not a serious Labour alternative.

Revoking Article 50 allows us the potential of staying in, but also forces those still seeking to deliver Brexit to come up with a viable agreement; one which does not risk the Good Friday Agreement and could command a Commons majority. If they are able to find such a proposal, Article 50 could then be re-triggered. Those unlikely circumstances seem unattainable, but it would be a better and more rational step to pause and try to identify such an approach than either catastrophically crashing out or fudging a ‘holding’ deal in the interests of an artificial deadline which is already damaging the country.

Voters need clarity. Labour’s constructive ambiguity should have ended long before the EU elections. I support revoking Article 50 and have run my re-selection campaign advocating that approach, winning the backing of members.

I am jealous of the clarity the Lib Dems now have on this crucial issue despite the fact their latest recruits, including Umunna, Wollaston and Gyimah, all voted to trigger Article 50 and kickstart the chaos.

Neil Coyle is the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark.