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Labour must announce its support for a People's Vote this week

3 min read

After Theresa May's government survived last night's no-confidence vote, the prospect of an immediate general election has receded. Labour must therefore support calls for a so-called "People's Vote" to break the logjam, says Luciana Berger.

Following the decisive rejection of Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday - the greatest-ever parliamentary defeat for a government - last night I voted in support of the no confidence motion, to demand a general election as soon as possible. The Government survived the vote of no-confidence, by a majority of just 19. 

We are told the Labour leadership’s plan is to harry the Tories with regular no-confidence motions. That’s one tactic, but it doesn’t add up to a strategy. The parliamentary arithmetic is not helpful to Labour. The Tories have 50-odd more parliamentary seats than the Opposition. The Tory ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the DUP is holding firm. 

After this week, we remain in parliamentary deadlock. For Labour, though, there is a clear route-map out of the quagmire. It was spelled out in the resolution passed at Labour Party conference back in September. The exact words of the motion’s text are ‘should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate general election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote'.

Now the no-confidence vote has been defeated, blocking the path to a general election, and the other opposition parties have ruled out supporting future votes of no-confidence, what are these options that remain on the table? 

May’s Withdrawal Agreement is dead. And we must vigorously oppose a no-deal Brexit which would visit great misery on millions of our citizens. It is irresponsible and reckless that the Government hasn’t yet ruled out this route.

Is there another form of Brexit which could win support? If there was a better Brexit, which would be agreed with the EU at this late stage, securing a majority of support in Parliament, I am sure someone would have presented it by now. It is simply wishful thinking on a grand scale to argue for some other fantasy Brexit which no-one yet has thought of. 

Some colleagues are advocating for a ‘Norway’ or ‘Norway-plus’ Brexit. Britain would leave the EU, join EFTA, and become the 31st full member of the EEA thus giving us access to the single market. This might appear to mitigate some of the economic damage, but I and the majority of Parliament won’t support it, because it paves the way to a hard Brexit via the back door. Is a delay to Brexit possible? Michel Barnier has been saying since last summer that an extension to Article 50 would only be possible to accommodate a general election or a referendum, but not to merely buy Theresa May extra time. 

Our political system has crashed. It needs a reboot. As things stand, the clock will count down to Brexit in less than 40 parliamentary sitting days’ time, without anything changing. Theresa May has lost her authority. The Labour leadership’s approach of constructive ambiguity has run out of road. There can be no more excuses. As Labour’s policy makes clear, we must move quickly towards a public vote. This commitment should be made this week and would pass power to the people, based on the experience of the past two-and-a-half years and the facts as they are now understood. The ballot paper must include the option of remaining in the EU.

Only a People’s Vote will break the logjam. Suddenly and dramatically, the argument shifts away from gridlocked Westminster and towards the communities of Britain. With the reality of what Brexit will actually entail now known, we should have no qualms about going back to the British people to give them the final say. 

Luciana Berger is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree

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