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Labour must do better than accept the fatalism of the most rightwing Brextremists

4 min read

The communities betrayed by Thatcher are now at risk of also being let down by the left, says Neil Coyle MP. 

Ian Lavery is Chair of the Labour Party. He represents a former mining community close to where my dad's great grandad, John Coils, died in a Washington pit disaster. But the claim from Labour's Chair in the Guardian that people are suggesting re-running the same referendum as 2016 made me recoil. It is a straw man argument more commonly put up by rightwing opponents of the people retaining their control over what happens to our country next. Any new vote would be very different.


Ian Lavery's piece suggested it would somehow be undemocratic to oppose the 2016 result. This false logic would also mean Labour accepting Tory cuts: Cameron beat Brown in 2010 and defeated Miliband in 2015. Corbyn also lost in 2017 meaning austerity 'won' three times when put to the people but I am glad to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ian against the measures that have so harmed the North Eastern and South London communities we represent.


Ian is right to state that those suffering under austerity are our priority in the Labour Party. I fed into the report of the UN Special Rapporteur which Ian quoted. I raised how Government policies do not just cause, but require poverty and outright destitution, including Universal Credit and the denial of access to any public services or benefits to tens of thousands of British-born children under pernicious Home Office rules. The Government should act on the Rapporteur's findings but instead continue their dogmatic political choice of inflicting penury.


Pretending the same people suffering under this Government would be better off if Brexit went ahead ignores all evidence though. The rising costs of Brexit - on food and on the jobs most at risk - are alarming. The loss of revenue to fund better public services very concerning. Labour should not underestimate the intelligence of the workers; if complicit, we will be held to account as the so-called 'Project Fear' warnings become Project Here.


The failure to articulate an adequate left response to Brexit has hit our Party's international values and members hard. Caving in to 'neon-Nazis' in their French-inspired gilets jaunes is dispiriting to say the least. To fail to champion British people's freedom of movement simply inadequate. A 10% fall in members could be the tip of the iceberg if, after three years, the denial of Party members getting their say on the most important issue facing the UK continues.


Labour's answer to the 2016 result needs to be better than accepting the fatalism of the most rightwing Brextremists. Only 37% of potential voters in 2016 chose Brexit. 13 million did not vote and many more, including Brits living abroad, people who had lived and paid tax in the UK for many years, as well as 16 and 17 year olds were denied a vote. We know far more today about the overspending, Russian-influenced Leave campaign still under investigation. People also now recognise the differing versions of Brexit.


Ian is right that a different deal could be possible; Customs Union membership is one option; staying in the Single Market another; staying in a reformed EU is my preference; and anyone who voted leave previously can reaffirm their choice in any new vote. But it is deeply disingenuous to claim any other option or negotiated settlement can be secured without an extension of Article 50. The EU has made clear the grounds for an extension. We must be facing an election, which Labour tried and failed to secure and other parties now oppose. Or the UK must be engaged in a new referendum. If Labour wants to negotiate a better deal, wholeheartedly backing a People's Vote is now the only course of action available.


Labour needs to be in Government to prevent the communities Ian and I serve of being further damaged but the Party Chair should clarify whether members will get what they overwhelmingly want and what is in line with our conference agreed policy, or if all the communities betrayed by Thatcher are now at risk of also being let down by the left.


Neil Coyle is Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. 


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