I would rather risk losing my job than stay silent on Brexit and risk my constituents losing theirs
We owe it to our country to tackle the burning injustices that led to Brexit, but those MPs who believe that Brexit will make that task harder owe it to our country to speak with honesty and conviction - and to let the people determine our country’s future, says Wes Streeting MP.
There is a democratic deficit at the heart of Brexit. People were told to vote Leave to take control, yet so many Leave voters are looking at Theresa May’s handling of the negotiations and wondering what happened to the Brexit they were promised.
They’re right to be angry. The Leave campaign was never honest about the choices, compromises and trade-offs involved. The choices available now fall into one of two categories: a hard Brexit, which would be painful because we’d be sacrificing jobs and trade; or a soft Brexit, which would be pointless because we’d be subjected to EU rules and regulations with no say over them. This isn’t what people voted for.
We owe it to our constituents and our country to be honest about the pain and futility of the choices confronting us. But instead of speaking with clarity and conviction, fear of the voters is now driving dishonesty at the heart of the Brexit debate. Some MPs are still talking about a fantasy ‘better Brexit’ deal to be won. I respect colleagues trying hard to find alternative ways to deliver Brexit in the absence of any leadership from the Prime Minister, but not a single one of them has put forward a detailed plan that would make us better off than we are now. The best they offer is damage limitation.
Some colleagues are going to vote for a Brexit that they know will harm their communities and our country because they’re scared of telling voters the truth or because they see it as their responsibility to simply be amplifiers for what their voters are saying on the doorsteps.
This isn’t good enough. I would rather tell it how it is and risk losing my job, than stay silent and risk my constituents losing theirs. That’s why this morning I put my money where my mouth is with a speech in the heart of my own Leave-voting constituency on the London-Essex border to an audience of local residents - the majority of whom voted to Leave the EU - making precisely these arguments. As I told the voters across two general elections - you may not always agree with me, but you’ll always know where I stand.
We are there to represent the voices of our constituents, but we are also there to be custodians and guardians of their livelihoods and our national interest. As Sir Winston Churchill said when he was threatened with deselection in the 1930s by Neville Chamberlain’s supporters in his Epping constituency: “What is the use of Parliament if it is not the place where true statements can be brought before the people?”
The decisions we make now will affect our country for generations to come. The pie-in-the-sky promises have evaporated and reality is biting. It’s time to give people the choice: now that we see the Brexit reality do we still want to leave the European Union, or would we rather remain?
Given that any deal to exit the European Union will be substantially different to what was promised during the referendum, it would be wrong to go ahead without asking for the consent of our fellow countrymen and women. Morally, this decision belongs to the voters and they should be given that choice in a fresh referendum.
The best speech I’ve heard from an MP who is genuinely committed to Brexit was from Conservative MP Conor Burns. He told the House of Commons: “I think Brexit was a great cry from the heart and soul of the British people. Too many people in this country feel that the country and the economy are not working for them, and that the affairs of our nation are organised around a London elite. They look at the bankers being paid bonuses for the banks that their taxes helped to rescue. They look at our embassies in the Gulf that are holding flat parties to sell off-plan exclusive London properties, when they worry about how they will ever get on to the housing ladder. They worry that they may be the first generation who are not better off than their parents, and they want to see a system back that spreads wealth and opportunity.”
I agree with every word. But every single one of those problems was made in Britain. We owe it to our country to tackle the burning injustices that led to Brexit, but those MPs who believe that Brexit will make that task harder owe it to our country to speak with honesty and conviction - and to let the people determine our country’s future.
Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North and a member of the Treasury Committee.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.