Jeremy Corbyn, welcome to the Final Say alliance
The idea of a fresh vote to settle the issue is mainstream, well supported across society and, now, has gained the backing, albeit a little hedged, of the main opposition party
Finally. Finally, Labour has put a Final Say referendum on its agenda. At the moment, it is about as good as it gets with the Labour Party and at least confirms the positive trajectory that has been the pattern ever since the last general election. It’s progress.
Where previously all the talk was of a general election or a vague “public vote”, now the heavier emphasis, if implicitly, is on a second Brexit referendum. And where, before, Labour reserved its position, or even said that Remain could not be on the ballot paper, Jeremy Corbyn has committed his party to campaign for Remain.
The confection is still covered in a few layers of fudge. It leaves open what a Labour government would do in power. That is less significant than it seems. First, the general thrust of Labour policy is moving clearly to a democratic endorsement of any Brexit, either a Labour or a Tory version, with a tendency for Labour to support Remain in any case. Staying in the EU is, after all, what about 80 per cent of Labour members want.
Second, a Labour government led by Mr Corbyn is some way off putting its own deal to the people. It would, after all, require this Tory government to lose a vote of confidence; then for the Commons to vote for a general election by a two-thirds majority, as required by the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act; for the Labour Party to then win that election, from a base of about 20 per cent in the polls, either outright or in coalition; then for Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry (and, possibly, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson) to ask the EU for another extension to Article 50; then to go to Brussels and negotiate yet another deal; then for that deal to be approved by parliament; and then for it to go to a confirmatory national referendum (with Remain on the ballot paper), and the party agreeing to allow MPs and others to campaign for either side.
As tempting a pipe dream as that might be for Labour supporters, it is a prospect that need not trouble us yet. If there is to be a proposed Brexit, it will be a Tory one.
Labour is a welcome addition to the prospective, informal or formal, Final Say alliance that will be needed to make sure that, whatever happens, the British people have the right to give their own verdict on their future.
Labour has done the right thing, and stood up for what it believes in – democracy. The previous position to respect the result of the 2016 referendum has been overtaken by events. It had led the party down some very dangerous pro-Brexit paths – ones that it never believed in and knew would cause huge damage to the economy, to jobs, and to the living standards of working people. Indeed any version of Brexit would do that; there never was such a thing as a “jobs first” Brexit. Labour has stopped pretending there is. The old formula was incomprehensible to voters (and most MPs), and, so far as it could be understood, alienated both sides of the debate; hence the 14 per cent Labour scored in the European elections.
Labour was never the party of Brexit, and certainly not of no deal, and was always uncomfortable being in the same camp as Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten and Michael Gove. Given that the only Brexit options on the table are a version of the deal Theresa May negotiated (as amended by Boris Johnson), or a no-deal Brexit, then a Final Say referendum is the only logical option left for the Labour Party when it cannot secure a general election.
It helps to put the Final Say on Brexit in the hands of the people, where it belongs. Every single person who voted for Leave in 2016, and any other voter for that matter, can vote for no deal, or some other Brexit deal, or, crucially, to Remain in the EU in a fresh vote with all the facts and prospects known.
Three years on, we know far more than we did in 2016 about the actual choices we are being asked to make. The decision to leave said nothing about customs unions, migration rules, the single market, international driving licences, tariffs on Swedish cars, Italian wines and Greek olives, banking passports or anything else. Everyone can claim that the British voted in 2016 for whatever form of Brexit that suits their argument, and the Brexiteers do, but they cannot all be right, and, indeed, they are all wrong. Leave was never defined; now it can be, and it can be voted upon.
Like every other glacially paced step Labour has taken in recent months, this has been painfully won by pressure exerted by the mass of the party, and reluctantly conceded by a small group at the top of the party. It is a testament to the strength of opinion in the party, and the efforts of Tom Watson and, more latterly, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and much of the trade union leadership (though not all) that at last the notoriously stubborn Mr Corbyn has shifted.
We now have the prospect of Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Taking him at his word – always dodgy but it is all we have – he will swear each member of his new cabinet to agree to a no-deal Brexit if it comes to it. He has also pointedly refused to rule out proroguing parliament, a democratic outrage that is scarcely believable, even from this mountebank. At any rate such circumstances were not suggested as attractive options in 2016, for example.
But we also have a shift in the mood of the country. The People’s Vote campaign has captured the imagination of fair-minded British people everywhere – in Leave and Remain areas alike. The Liberal Democrats, Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Independent Group for Change, the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, many grassroots individual Labour and Conservative members, supporters and voters, most trade unionists, business groups, employers, farmers, civic groups and millions of voters back the campaign. Some 6 million signed the petition to revoke Article 50.
Only last year the idea of a Final Say vote was thought of as a fringe cause, with a vanishingly small chance of success. But today, as Brexit collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, the idea of a fresh vote to settle the issue is mainstream, well supported across society and, now, has gained the backing, albeit a little hedged, of the main opposition party.
The Independent is proud to be a part of this campaign for a people’s vote. We have put the arguments for a Final Say in the name of democracy, and given a platform to the varied voices making the case. We have been there on the marches and rallies, solid in the belief that a decision on Brexit should only be taken with the full-hearted consent of the British people. It is all we have asked for, and we are gratified that Mr Corbyn has joined the struggle.