On 19 June you wrote to Jeremy Corbyn, demanding that Brexit proceeds without ‘further undue delay, as the UK ‘must leave’, warning that holding out for a ‘perfect deal’ risks rather a No deal exit, and that ‘fighting for a Brexit for the many not the few, is best fought for at Stage 2, after we have left’.
As Labour MPs representing Brexit-voting area, your prime fear appears to the threat posed by the Brexit Party to take Labour working class votes in your own constituency.
The worst of all worlds is, indeed, where we seem to be stuck at present. Continuing uncertainty is damaging the economy, starving it of the investment it needs to escape stagnation, while the(current) Chancellor is preparing to spend £26bn to mitigate the immediate impact of a No deal exit, the Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland is threatened to the point of impending demise, and political discourse has become polarised and polluted, sometimes to a point where a whiff back to the push to political extremes of the thirties, is discernible, as any middle ground between Remainer and Leave positions is hallowed out.
Think, think, what £26bn could do to transform the housing and education environments in Brexit-voting areas and elsewhere, while relieving the pressure on health and adult social care.
We must escape this mess, but how? The Conservative Party has been captured by the Hard-Brexiteers, eschewing evidence and common-sense, in favour of a reactionary fetish.
Your party’s position is confused and conflicted, only (vaguely) comprehensible – like that of the governing party – if the trouble of studying its internal machinations and perceived electoral calculus is taken. But why should the electorate be required to do that?
It is not surprising that there has been a populist surge.
Yet your intervention is misjudged and follows the same self-interested groove. Most importantly, it is likely to be counter-productive, even when taken on its own terms.
It will strengthen the opportunistic and hubristic hand of Boris Johnson, if he becomes Prime Minister – as it will the ERG faction within the Conservative party regardless – to pursue the threat of a No deal exit.
The idea seems to be that the threat of No deal will induce Brussels to blink and give concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement (WA); linked, perhaps, to a commitment to enter into an interim side (or WA replacement) agreement involving tariff and quota-free EU-UK trade, as a precursor to a long-term Canadian-plus-type free trade (FTA) deal, all done and dusted with parliamentary approval secured before October 31st.
That simply is not going to happen. The unnecessary hiatus that will follow will only heighten and prolong uncertainty, fuelling the risk that an economically and socially disastrous No deal exit occurs by default.
An event that is likely to let the populist genie out of the bottle in real earnest, probably fragmenting voter behaviour well into the future, quite possibly permanently.
Even taking a longer time-frame, and a further extension beyond 31st October, Brussels will not be induced to make concessions, other than to repackage its earlier iterations on the N.Ireland backstop, set out in the Joint 24.1 letters of Tusk and Juncker, to make it appear more ‘temporary’ than ‘indefinite’, and/or revert to a NI-specific customs union and regulatory alignment: back round the same circle.
Besides, the Brexit trilemma will not dissolve with any change of the deckchairs in 10 Downing Street: it is possible to secure two, but not all three, of the following: UK single market and customs union exit; a whole-UK Brexit; and no Irish border.
Or, put another way, without continuing UK-wide customs union and regulatory alignment with the EU, for, at least, goods, either NI will need to be subject to different customs and regulatory arrangements than the rest of the UK, or a border within the island of Ireland will need to be reinstated in some form or other: hence the backstop; and why time-limiting it in a legally certain way constitutes a contradiction in terms.
The retention of an open border in Ireland, without the separate regulatory treatment of NI, requires the UK to continue within an equivalent CU with the EU combined with some measure of continuing dynamic regulatory alignment for the currently foreseeable future.
A future freestanding FTA with the EU that allows the UK to negotiate bespoke trade agreements with the Rest of the World (ROW) – likely to take at least six years or more to negotiate, taking the Canadian precedent – is inconsistent not only with an open Irish border, but with continuing frictionless trade between the EU and the rest of the UK.
We would also have to kow-tow to President Trump and follow US regulatory food standards (disastrous for farmers across the UK) and quite inconsistent with an open Ireland border, and open up the NHS to American health care providers. Protecting patriotism and sovereignty should not be confused with Brexit.
Tariff-free and quota-free UK-EU trade will also not by itself lead to frictionless trade without continuing UK adherence to the EU customs code, the common external tariff, and commercial policy, which then would rule an independent UK trade policy.
The government’s own evidence backs up that of independent economists that the economic benefits of future possible free trade agreements with the ROW will prove puny compared to loss the benefits of such frictionless trade with the EU 27: our closest neighbours.
It is incumbent on you to explain otherwise, with reference to evidence and facts, rather than assertion.
Alternatively, unless you wish to sink to the depths of ERG posturing, blind to facts and arguments, you should recognise that you are prepared to swallow the dismemberment of the Union and the infliction of lasting economic damage to the UK.
You could reply that I accept all of that, but I must respect the June 2016 vote in line with existing party policy, in line with democratic principles, respecting the majority who voted Leave, regardless of consequence.
But three years ago, people did not vote for No deal; and the real economic, political, and social consequences of leaving have become much clearer.
With respect to the interests of your working class constituents, it is difficult to discern how becoming poorer (the impact of disrupted and often sundered previously integrated manufacturing supply chains, will be most severe on constituencies in Wales, the North and Midlands, dependent on them), weakened public finances, and restricting the migration of young economically active EU workers (urban areas, such as Sunderland, would likely suffer consequent population loss), will improve their lot.
That is not to say The Dangers of a Second Referendum should be under-estimated, or avoided if at all possible.
But, as explained above, your intervention reduces the prospects of a negotiated deal most attuned to the interest of your constituents, while raising the risk of No Deal.
One of you, Caroline Flint, confirmed last Sunday that she would vote for No deal, in preference to revoking article 50 or for a second referendum.
Each of you should make your own position on that clear.
Some of you have already stymied efforts to prevent No deal by voting against the combined Labour, LD, SNP, and Green-supported motion, presented earlier this month to the Commons.
In that light, do you agree with Caroline that it would weaken the government negotiation position to threaten a No Deal exit, or with Jim that we will have opportunities to do that ‘sometime later’?
The best way to avoid both a No deal exit and a second referendum is to work with your Labour colleagues and Conservative One Nationers to legislatively prevent a No deal exit by executive action or default.
If that is not possible, your constituents should be provided with an opportunity to choose between Remaining and No deal, if that is what is left on the table.
Meanwhile campaigning that raising local educational horizons and expectations, inward investment, greater transport connectivity, and housing choice and opportunity (and the means to realise them), as well as improving public safety, is what is needed, not Brexit, would, undoubtedly, best support your local constituents and secure their lasting respect and allegiance.