This feels very odd to say, but I think the Brexit Deal of Theresa May should be supported by the British Labour party.
Before the referendum, I struggled to decide how I would vote (if I had had one). I played devil’s advocate everywhere I went, testing out the Brexit argument. I disagreed with ‘austerity’. I didn’t like the corporate influence that held sway, nor the celebrity politicians. I was uneasy with the ‘powerlessness’ that people felt, and I didn’t like the jargon and growing distance between the EU and ordinary people. I did feel excluded. I felt the EU needed reform, and wondered if the threat of Grexit, Brexit or whatever country’s exit might bring about change. Eventually, I couldn’t align myself with the forces of Nigel Farage or Boris Johnston and I was relieved that I didn’t have to vote, though I think I would have ticked remain had I been in a voting booth. I stayed up all night listening to the results on my laptop. I was in on holiday in a tiny studio in Thessaloniki in Greece while doing a writing workshop with the British Council. I will never forget the dark heat of that night, the whirr of the circulating fan, the square of blue light from my netbook, my growing disbelief in what I was hearing, alongside a growing excitement, dread and fear as the results came in.
The shock in Thessaloniki the next day was palpable. When we opened our mouth to order food, buy stamps, get a drink, people would ask us why. One Italian young women in the post office broke down in tears, fearful for her future. It is hard to imagine a 21 year old in Brighton crying over the EU, even if they were ‘Remainers’.
So, as a result of that referendum, we have all had to endure the last two years of Brexit Mania in Britain. Over time, it has been soul destroying to watch the various egos at battle. It has been a little like watching a tenth century jousting. Politicians have reared up, charged, and fallen. Heads have rolled. There has been so much noise, screeching headlines, and bitter speeches. It has been hard to understand what is going on.
First it was the cost of Brexit, billions of pounds. Then all the Brits abroad were going to be forced home and, of course, the foreign nationals in Britain were going to be ejected. Then there was going to be nobody to do the work the Brits didn’t like to do. The fruit picking and sea food industries were going to collapse without the exploited, underpaid immigrants to do the work. Business interests would be threatened. There was news of British companies shifting their HQs or opening new offices in other European countries. Then there was talk of stockpiling and the M20 becoming a lorry zone. There would no access to medicines. The voice of the Brexiteer became shriller and shriller as the complications of leaving the EU became more and more entangled. It seemed the Brits were on roller coaster, spiralling downwards, in a vortex of inevitability over which no-one had control. I was reminded of Germany in the 1930s and began to understand just what the ordinary decent German citizen might have gone through.
In the middle of all mayhem, Theresa May decided to call a snap election to underline her prowess as leader and bolster her majority. Her manifesto was appalling, her attitude worse and in the maelstrom, Jeremy Corbyn soared forth. Party politics became exciting as Jeremy swept across the shoulders of the crowds of Glastonbury. The face of Theresa May at her count when she realised she was not likely to have a majority in Parliament, reminded me of a plaster of Paris mask. Her sharp features were pale, her expression was rigid and her words rang empty. I almost felt sorry for her. Then, as the election pot continued to boil and the final ingredient thown into the witches brew of Brexit was the Democratic Unionist Party, I did feel sorry for her. And as the year has gone on, as she has been ridiculed, rejected, and isolated by her own members of the Tory Party and EU colleagues, I found myself beginning to admire her tenacity. And it is this tenacity and determination that has drafted a Brexit agreement that I think meets, for the moment, the concerns of everyone, and, as I understand it, is not too different to the agreement the Labour Party would seek
So, as I understand it, the UK would remain in the customs union. Northern Ireland would remain in the Customs Union and Single Market and it gives the UK the right to legislate as it wishes to in relation to immigration. The UK will be able to choose who and who it does not let into the country which it seems was the main reason for the Brexit vote in the referendum.
The Agreement is a beginning. It will provide some security and the opportunity to pursue further, calmer negotiations and a No Deal Brexit would be a disaster. I shiver to imagine how that will look (crashing aircrafts come to mind). I understand that the Labour Party want an election, but that’s unlikely to happen. The most that will come to pass is a leadership election in the Tory Party and the country could end up with a Boris or Rees Mogg as prime-minister.
I understand the Labour Party do not want to support Theresa May. I am sure members are anxious about being seen to support Brexit Deal, or keeping the Tory Government in power. Having no whip on the parliamentary vote (as in 1975) could get around this problem. The Labour party has a choice. The six tests are a good idea, but I also think they are not the tool to gauge a Brexit Deal at this point. I think ensuring that there is no hard border in Ireland, that the UK remains in the Customs Union, and that there can be calm, effective negotiations further down the road is more important.
There has to be an election in 2022. This is going to be an extremely signficiant time in the transition period. The Labour Party must be ready. Let the Tories deal with Brexit now. The Labour Party needs to work together and assemble itself to deal with what is likely to be a challenging future.