No Labour MP should vote for Boris Johnson’s deal – a Final Say referendum is the only way to heal division
Editorial: Three and a half years have solved nothing, but they have shown beyond doubt that the UK’s political systems cannot process a decision of this magnitude and contention
There was no signature on the letter Boris Johnson sent to Brussels on Saturday night, but there will be more than 150,000 on the one that will shortly land on his doormat and in the offices of every MP in the country.
The Independent’s letter, which follows Saturday’s million-strong march for a Final Say, is calling for politicians, both in the UK and in the EU, to give the people a voice on the terms of the Brexit deal, in the form of a second referendum.
Three and a half years have solved nothing, but they have shown beyond doubt that the UK’s political systems cannot process a decision of this magnitude and contention.
Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit deal may yet be voted on again in the coming weeks, but already there are signs that opposition MPs will seek to amend it or use other procedures to continue to influence the way in which the UK leaves the European Union, or whether it will do so at all.
That is absolutely their right. There is no sensible analysis that shows Brexit will do anything other than make the country poorer, damaging lives and livelihoods. MPs are not honour bound to believe in Brexit. Nothing at all compels them to make their constituents poorer.
Brexit divides the two main parties as brutally as it does the country. But the result has broken the process. Many Labour MPs in constituencies that voted to leave feel they are morally, or perhaps politically, bound to respect the result – to vote, in other words, for Boris Johnson’s deal, even though it bears no relation to the type of Brexit he promised, and is in every way anathema to all of the Labour Party’s values.
Politicians and political parties will gain nothing in the end from genuflecting in front of beliefs they do not hold now, have not held in the past and will never hold in the future.
Yes, many Labour constituencies did vote to leave. But the evidence is clear that they did so with the assistance of millions of voters who have never voted Labour and will never do so.
Political parties surrendering their values in the service of other people’s voters is not normal. It is a bizarre mutation caused by a representative democracy trying to implement the choice made by direct democracy. It will not work. And it will not heal division, either.
Now, at the end of 2019, the choice on offer from Brexit is clear. No deal is not credible. Boris Johnson’s deal is, it would appear, the only form of Brexit the EU will now offer.
Of course, a second referendum will be fought with passion, and tempers may flare. It will, nevertheless, provide a clear answer.
This is the Brexit on offer. It’s negotiated, it’s clear. Those who voted for Brexit, just as those who did not, have a right to say whether this is really what they voted for. And, more to the point, those who didn’t vote for Brexit, but don’t want a second referendum, also have a clear and noble option open to them, which is to vote Leave.
There will be more closure to be found this way than in the alternative: a Brexit deal, nothing like that which was promised, which is likely to be a touchstone of bitter loathing in the years ahead as its economic consequences become clear.
MPs should be wary of taking this path when alternatives are available. The alternative is the path many MPs – especially Labour MPs – are choosing, which is to suspend their better judgement to knowingly cause harm to their constituents, a tremendously foolish path indeed.
The only argument Brexiteers appear to have left is the one Michael Gove makes with regularity: that the economic harm of Brexit will be less damaging than the harm to our democracy of not leaving the European Union at all.
It is a remarkable argument – that Brexit must be delivered to fulfil the broken promises of the Brexiteers themselves.
A second referendum leaves no such deficit. MPs, parties and ordinary voters will be free to do only as they think best.
There are no imperfect options. A Final Say is the best way forward, by far.