James Frith MP
James Frith MP

I’ve written for The Times today about how Labour can find a clear voice on Brexit with a change in policy. You can find the whole piece below.

After attempts to be austerity-lite, Labour found its voice again when it opposed austerity. We can do the same again with a clear voice on Brexit, back a final say public vote on a deal which can muster a majority of MPs and give Britain the last word – whether to stick or twist; to keep what we’ve got or sign it off. As with austerity, so now with Brexit, there are those who argue it is a necessary position for us to take as we’re pulled on to the Tories’ lawn.

After the EU elections results, we know that offering Labour’s version of Brexit is a rhetoric that voters have deemed inauthentic. Those who believe in Brexit won’t vote for us because there is literally a party called Brexit. And it isn’t enough to convince some Remainers or changers (former Leavers now wanting another vote) that we’re strong enough for them to support. There may well be trust issues to come if we continue to ask for an open relationship with everyone.

No-deal rhetoric will be the ropes of the ring in which the Tory leadership battle will be fought. Labour’s rhetoric thus far has included a clear opposition to a no-deal exit but this takes us no further now in the minds of the voters even though no-deal is more likely than anything else.

After three years of disastrous Tory handling of this, the five months until we fall out of the EU are easily accounted for: A five week Tory leadership contest in which contestants jostle to out-Brexit each other, a summer recess and a month-long party conference season quickly shrinks the time we have to a matter of a few short weeks in Westminster on which the future prospects for the entire country are held in balance, with an untested, newly-minted Prime Minister. It is hard to see how a caucus alone, from any corner of the Commons, could intervene successfully before reaching October’s deadline.

An explicit, unambiguous, simply put change of position by Her Majesty’s Opposition with a clear Labour policy on this might be the only way we have of stopping a no-deal Brexit. Labour’s policy should become the backing of a public vote on a deal proposed by the next Tory PM which can secure a majority in Parliament before putting it to the public to sign off, with Labour backing staying in to transform Britain and a reformed relationship with Europe. Labour MP’s could offer conditional support for a Brexit deal providing it is put to the people, with Remain as an option, an outcome the Labour Party would campaign for – alongside a bold and ambitious Labour programme to rebuild the country and get it back on track.

Labour should recommit to its transformative plan to rebuild Britain, not join in with its dismantling. We should lead with a bold and open offer, including substantial investment in Britain’s Leave and most deprived areas to address some of the underlying motivations and reasons people voted to leave and call time on the status quo. This isn’t the bungled bribe promised by the Tories but a recognition that austerity has taken its toll, deepening inequalities that served as a backdrop and motivation to vote Leave with so many overlooked by the benefits of growth elsewhere, remaining blindspots for this government whilst the Brexit bickering ensues.

In my community this could deliver a desperately needed local public transport revival, new CCTV and community policing teams back on the beat, cleaner air initiatives, more school funding and new school buildings, teachers for children with special educational needs, quality affordable housing, easy access to GP surgeries and traffic easing.

Let’s also commit to higher paid work with a national roll-out of living wage towns funded by government and business and give our local authorities the funding they need and deserve to deliver high quality frontline services. Let’s be explicit in the cost of this being paid for by the benefits of staying in Europe, with the value of what it can bring coming from the communities ourselves who will determine what we spend it on.

An overwhelming majority of the Labour Party still believes we should lead, not leave, Europe. There is a case to be made anew now we all know more than we did, acknowledging the fact that the 2017 Parliament is more recently anointed than the 2016 referendum vote. Some of us were sent to Parliament because we didn’t trigger Article 50. And the 2015, 16 and 17 election years saw towns like mine taking different decisions on the same issue each of those years in sequence. Just a few weeks ago new Labour councillors were elected in place of Tory councillors in my constituency, with the Local Election affirming an approach we’ve taken across Bury North which includes arguing that the public should get a final say on this.

Democracy is the right to vote the same way and the room to change your mind and now we know more about what Brexit means, let’s hold it up to the light and say yes or no to it. More democracy is more of a say not less and this isn’t something to call wrong.

James Frith MP
Labour MP for Bury North

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