This article was first published in the i News on 01 February 2017.
We put our heart and soul into campaigning to remain in the EU. We believed that the country was better off, safer and stronger in the world as a member. Our constituents supported our view.
But Labour’s national message was unclear. Did the party support Remain or Leave? Many of our voters were unsure, even in London where we represent.
We failed to persuade enough to support Remain. Seven out of ten Labour constituencies voted to Leave, contributing significantly to the vote for Brexit.
It was a bitter disappointment to lose the referendum. A shattering blow. We share the grief and shock of our constituents. Leaving the EU is a momentous decision, and it will change the course of our country’s history.
Last week the Supreme Court declared that the Government could not trigger Article 50 – commencing the process of our withdrawal from the EU – without the consent of Parliament. The Brexit Bill gives the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50.
It was for Parliament to decide. But the vote exposes the division between Labour’s Remain and Leave constituencies. Labour divided is a less effective opposition to the Tories. All of us who want a strong opposition to the Tories and who want a Labour government must work to overcome the divisions and rebuild our national electoral coalition. We believe it is our duty as socialists, as democrats and as patriots.
And so, with a heavy heart, we both voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the EU. We both voted in favour of the rules under which the referendum was fought. Neither of us received any correspondence from constituents arguing that we should not. We believe as democrats that we must abide by the national result which is a clear choice to leave the EU.
To stand against the decision of the country would be to deepen Labour and the country’s divisions and undermine our ability to build a coalition uniting the cities with the towns and country, the young with the old, immigrant with settled communities, the north with the south.
We have to build this coalition in order to win an election to form a Labour government. Labour MPs will rigorously scrutinise the Government’s Brexit negotiations and hold the Tories to account.
We have both tabled amendments to the Bill requiring the government to set out how it will honour the pledge made by Vote Leave Ministers to spend £350m extra per week on the NHS, and to ensure we keep the UK in the Single Market on which so many jobs depend.
We all failed our country
The vote to Leave was a vote against the politicians, opinion formers, bankers and business people who make up the ruling elites. Collectively we have failed our country.
Britain needed reform of our institutions to protect people from the uncontrolled market forces of globalisation and reform to harness its benefits. Government did neither. Instead we saw a system that too often rewards the rich and punishes the poor. Britain became richer, but millions have been excluded from their fair share of prosperity.
We have been around the country talking to Leave and Remain voters from all backgrounds. Those who voted Leave were not duped by the right wing media. They were not any more or less ignorant of the technical issues of the EU debate than were Remainers. They were no more or less bigoted in their views than Remainers.
In fact the division between Remainers and Leavers in the country is much less pronounced than people think. There exists a shared desire for national renewal and for Britain to be great again. People want a more equal, more decent Britain that is a moral leader, a creator, a trader, a connector, and an ideas maker in the world. A European country, if not a member of the EU.
No one wants Britain to become a tax haven
There is little appetite for protectionism. No wish to retreat from the world. Neither Leavers nor Remainers want Britain turned into a bolt hole for the super rich, a tax haven for monopoly capitalism, a sweatshop for Europe.
So can Labour look ahead to the future and imagine the country we want to help build? Brexit demands that we construct an enduring social and economic settlement at home in the interest of working people, and a new strategic security and foreign policy for Britain in the world.
Yet we can only achieve this if Labour voters in the cities who voted Remain make common cause with Labour voters in the towns and country who voted to Leave. Then we can build Labour into a crusade for a new country, and defeat the Tories. But first, Brexit. First, this difficult decision to vote to trigger Article 50.