Parliament returns this week and reality is about to bite us in the Labour Party – and bite us hard.

Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill is back in front of the House of Commons and it is going to sail through. That’s the painful consequence of our failure to win the general election. 

The prime minister is well known for being economical with the truth, but one of the biggest mistakes Labour’s top team made during the general election campaign was to let him get away with a whopper: that he will get Brexit done by 31 January. Instead we know the biggest challenge yet to come is getting a trade deal in place to agree the terms of our future relationship with the European Union and making sure we avert the serious risk of crashing out without a deal.

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Johnson refuses to rule out leaving with no deal. This is the single biggest risk facing our country right now. It deserves serious scrutiny. But the only amendment certain to pass is one to ensure Big Ben chimes at 11pm on 31 January. Seriously. 

As a member of parliament in the West Midlands where a Jaguar Land Rover plant employs many of my constituents, Brexit is about so much more than Big Ben’s bongs. How the government handles the negotiations will dictate whether or not manufacturing supply chains continue to operate smoothly and, as a result, whether or not people keep their jobs. These are the issues that keep me awake at night.  

As the Labour leadership contest gets under way, people are looking to us to see what kind of leadership we’ll provide in the face of these challenges. We’ve seen where a lack of honesty and plain speaking, courage and conviction got Labour at the last election. In trying to look both ways we ended up pleasing no one.

In my experience, honesty is the best policy. People in my Birmingham Yardley constituency voted to leave the European Union by about 60 per cent. They know that I think leaving the European Union presents huge risks to our country and they know that I haven’t suddenly changed my mind. But it hasn’t broken their trust in me or my faith in them, because we’re honest with each other. Contained in that honesty is mutual respect. We don’t always agree on everything, but we have good faith that our intentions are good. There is not enough of that about at the moment.  

I want to show the same honesty with the country as we look to the future. We’re leaving the European Union. There’s no doubt or debate about that now. Under my leadership, we’ll hold Boris Johnson mercilessly to account for every single promise and call him out for every single lie that he’s told the country. He’s got no excuses now. He got the Brexit he called for and he’s got the majority he asked for. He might think that it’s only other people’s jobs at risk if he messes up, but I’ll be making damned sure that his job is on the line too. 

People are asking me if I’ll lead the campaign to rejoin the EU. We haven’t even left yet! The honest answer is that I don’t know what the future will hold, but we must accept the result, move our country forward and hold Boris Johnson to account. I can’t see a campaign to rejoin winning support in the next Labour manifesto.

Labour should always be an outward-facing and a pro-European party, but we know in our heads as well as our hearts that our failure to win the election means the terms of the debate have changed.

I’ll never stop making the case for a strong alliance with Europe that protects jobs and livelihoods, promotes trade, disrupts international crime and terrorism and sees our best brains working in collaboration on the big global missions that will define our century, from preventing climate breakdown to finding a cure for cancer. That’s where I want to channel the energy and passion of the pro-European movement, and I want you to join me and join the Labour Party to help us do that.

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For the past nine years, while out of government, Labour leaders have woken up thinking about what they’re going to say. Conservative prime ministers have woken up thinking about what they’re going to do. 

We must speak truth, win power. That’s my ambition. Together we can do it.

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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