The party I loved must not betray Brexit, says IAN AUSTIN who quit Labour to become an independent MP
The choice facing every Labour MP today is a stark one that should have nothing to do with party politics.
It is unlikely that there will be a more important parliamentary vote in their lifetime.
Indeed, their decision should be straightforward: back the deal agreed between Brussels and the Government or condemn Britain to more years of political crisis.
The vast majority of these MPs were voted in on Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto which could not have been clearer. It stated in unambiguous terms – one which I signed up to – that ‘Labour accepts the referendum result’.
Former Labour MP Ian Austin is MP for Dudley North and voted Remain in the 2016 referendum
Today is their chance to honour that pledge. Personal wishes should not factor into it now.
It is true that like myself, 217 other Labour MPs, voted Remain in 2016. But that is history. I would be betraying my Leave-voting Dudley constituency, as well as every democratic fibre of my being, if I opted to scupper our withdrawal.
Ever since the referendum, I’ve always felt that, with such a close result, we would need to find a compromise. That’s why I consistently backed Theresa May’s deal, which was defeated three times in the Commons.
At the time, I pleaded with Labour MPs – 60 per cent of whom represent Leave majorities – to swallow their pride and do their duty. After all, what are MPs for if not for keeping commitments to constituents?
And yet Labour has done everything in its power to betray Brexit voters.
Meanwhile, the cost of this paralysis to the country has been severe. Our economy is pinned back by uncertainty. Parliament’s attention has been diverted from other issues of supreme importance – our schools and NHS. This catastrophic situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Several Labour MPs have rightly expressed concerns about workers’ rights and environmental issues post Brexit. To them, I say: There will never be a better time to wring concessions from ministers if we leave the EU in 12 days’ time.
‘Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly refused to consider the merits of the Government’s deal’
Indeed, Boris Johnson said on Thursday that he would ‘gladly’ make a cast-iron commitment to maintain the ‘highest possible standards’ on environmental and social protections, if that’s what it takes to carry the Brexit deal through Parliament.
That commitment will be made in writing as a legally binding part of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Labour MPs should seize it while it is available.
But, without a hint of shame, Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly refused to consider the merits of the Government’s deal. Typically blinkered, he even rejected the agreement before he’d read the full document.
I resigned from the Labour Party in February over the culture of extremism and intolerance that had taken over the party. I had also witnessed how Corbyn’s extremist mindset undermined his capacity to be rational.
When I and a number of colleagues warned him that the party under his leadership was allowing anti-Semitism to flourish, he stubbornly refused to countenance the prospect.
Now, his pig-headed reluctance to reconsider his position over Brexit is again on show for all to see. It is the worst sort of hypocrisy to criticise the Prime Minister’s deal despite having irresponsibly made a mockery of every opportunity to contribute constructively to negotiations.
After Mrs May’s deal failed for a third time, she invited the Labour leadership to help put together a compromise that would be acceptable to their MPs. But Corbyn refused to play ball and the chance was wasted.
Almost every day since, the Labour leadership has done everything in its power to undermine the referendum result.
And now, not only is it refusing to put an end the political and economic stasis spawned by Parliament’s dithering over Brexit, it even wants to prolong our suffering in the form of a second referendum.
Enough is enough.
This country desperately needs cross-party co-operation to help it heal the wounds and divisions of the past three-and-a-half years.
If Labour MPs want to haul Britain back from the brink, they must do their duty and make sure the deal passes today.
Ian Austin is MP for Dudley North