Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry: The Brexit generation will never forgive our parties if we fail

This article was originally published in the Evening Standard on the 12th March 2018.

We reside in different political parties and rarely inhabit the same voting lobby in the House of Commons but on Brexit we are as one.

An issue that continues to divide our country also forges new alliances and a determination to put the interests of the country over and beyond traditional tribal politics and party loyalty.

It is frustrating to be urged on in private by ministers and those who should know better in the dark corners of Westminster’s long corridors, muttering “well done — keep on going”, without this being matched by public action.

We assure you we will, but the time has now come for them to say in public what they whisper to us in private.

Given a free vote, we believe our colleagues would support Britain staying in both the single market and customs union — not just because that is what they believe in but because their constituents are desperate for an outcome that secures the economic future of their children and grandchildren.

We also believe that if we don’t get this right there will be profound adverse consequences not just for our economy and place in the world but also on the way we do politics in Britain.

Too many government ministers bury their Brexit fears under piles of ministerial papers, shy away from debate in interministerial groups and get whisked away from difficult discussions in cosy cars. Too often their excuses for ducking the difficult decisions are parroted by the Opposition frontbench.

Too often their excuses for ducking the difficult decisions are parroted by the Opposition frontbench
For the first time ever, a Government is set upon a course which, on its own admission, will make us less prosperous. We were promised the “exact same benefits” by David Davis, but now in a welcome blast of Brexit reality Mrs May admits we will have reduced access to the single market and there will be no passporting for London’s financial services. And that, of course, is her opening pitch.

The EU’s response has brought no surprises. They have always been clear. We will end up with only a free trade agreement unless we have the good sense to take the single market and customs union options the EU put on the table at the outset.

Last week, the select committee of MPs which oversees the Department for Exiting the European Union published part of the Government’s own analysis of the various Brexit deal options.

The Government’s preferred and overly ambitious option was not modelled — perhaps because ministers know that in reality it is not achievable.

The analysis shows growth would be reduced by some four per cent if we secure an free trade agreement, by two per cent if we remain within the customs union and single market and the “no deal” scenario pressed for by some senior ministers, would cut growth by some eight per cent.

Our constituencies voted differently in the Brexit referendum. One of us is the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, in Nottinghamshire, a key marginal seat in which the incumbent MP is almost always a member of the party in power.

We calculate the leave vote in Broxtowe was about 52 per cent, which pretty much matched the national result. The other is the Labour MP for Streatham, which is estimated to have scored a 75.9% remain vote, the highest in the country. But as Brexit unfolds and we have the debate we should have had long before June 23, 2016, many Leave voters are becoming increasingly concerned.

Leaving the EU is more complicated than any of us was ever told, it will make us less prosperous and they can see how damaging a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be.

Many of our older constituents remember with respect, the original “Common Market”. It never fell out of favour, but the perceived power grab by huge bastions of bureaucracy annoyed them.

It wasn’t long before the economic benefits were forgotten as Eurosceptic sections of the media stoked up antagonism towards the EU.

The name change from European Economic Community to European Union rather confirmed the shift. In short, many Leave voters are not so much regretting their vote as wanting to be sure we now do the right thing — they are worried we won’t and so they are right to want, along with the rest of us, a vote on the final deal.

There was, of course, a democratic deficit in the EU and it extends to our country. The disconnect between huge tracts of our country and the politicians and parties that claim to represent them was a significant factor in the Leave vote.

This deficit will grow, on whatever basis we leave the EU. Not just because the vote to “take back control” will not, in reality, give them more control over their lives, but because Brexit exposes the failings of our two main parties.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that many millions of voters feel neither represent them. On Brexit, the Labour leadership has shifted to support “a” customs union whereas the Conservative Party manifesto at last year’s election pledged a customs arrangement. You may conclude there is little real difference.

History will not be kind to those who led us into the referendum on the EU — and that includes us given we voted for the legislation as MPs.

It will chide those who have led us since the vote for Brexit for their failure to build a consensus on how best to make it happen.

And it will condemn those who stand by and say nothing. But the biggest condemnation will come from voters and especially the generation that will bear the cost of Brexit more than any other — the young. They will declare a plague on both of our parties.

https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/anna-soubry-and-chuka-umunna-the-brexit-generation-will-never-forgive-our-parties-if-we-fail-a3787531.html