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‘I ask you to justify your position’: AC Grayling’s open letter to Lisa Nandy

Lisa Nandy, Labour MP. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

In a powerful open letter, AC Grayling asks Remain-voting Labour MP Lisa Nandy how she can justify her subsequent support for Leave when she knows how harmful it will be to her constituents, who nonetheless voted to leave by nearly 64%.

At the recent UK in a Changing Europe conference on July 15, I heard Lisa Nandy speaking with great eloquence and sincerity about her Wigan constituency’s Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. Although she had voted Remain, she decided that she had to support Brexit, that Westminster politics was out of touch with what was happening beyond the M25, and that therefore ‘not to respect’ the outcome of the 2016 referendum would be a breach of trust.

Reading in the local paper what Wigan had to say about why so many voted to Leave, the reasons were familiar: immigrants taking jobs, the EU damage to farming and fishing, sentiments like ‘it was better before’ and ‘we want our own politicians to make decisions not the EU’ – were familiar ones.

It made me wish to ask Lisa Nandy some questions. I did not have an opportunity at the conference, so I take the liberty of writing an open letter to her here.

Dear Ms Nandy,

Your Remain vote in the 2016 referendum was presumably on the basis of the information and insight you have gained as an MP since 2010: because you believe that the UK does better inside the EU than out of it. This entails, as a simple matter of logic, the understanding that Brexit is not in the best interests of your constituents.

You have, however, decided to back Brexit, not – as far as I can determine – because you have come to believe that it will materially improve the lives of your constituents, but because of their strength of feeling that the problems they face are the fault of the EU.

You know that this is false. Austerity economics imposed since 2010 were not the fault of the EU, but of Westminster policy. Blaming immigrants for employment levels is the result of misinformation. Immigrants bring a net benefit to the economy of the UK, and over one in four of NHS staff are from outside the UK. The farming industry is heavily dependent on EU subsidies; 137 farmers around Wigan received £1,654,775 in EU funds between them in 2017 alone.

Farming is not the only area in Wigan that has benefited. Nine education and youth projects in and around the town have received £1,142,955 in EU funding, and while five research projects based there received £666,013 – income that the Wigan area stands to lose because a Westminster government will not replace it.

MORE: £5.3 billion of EU regional funding runs out in 18 months and the government has no planKnowing these things, as MP you had a duty to inform your electors of this, and to challenge the false impression, generated by decades of tabloid misinformation and Brexiter falsehoods, that the EU was to blame for their problems. You ought to have warned them that Brexit would make their problems worse. As a Remainer yourself you ought to have seen your duty as an MP to be, as Edmund Burke famously said in 1774, a representative and not a delegate of the voters.

In this you give your constituents your judgment and your endeavours on behalf of their interests, for you are not a mere messenger. You are elected and then paid to get information, listen to debate, discuss, and – by the Code of Conduct for MPs – form a judgment to act in the interests of the country as a whole as well as your constituents. For, as Burke also put it, you are not just the MP for Wigan, you are a member of parliament with the rest of the country to consider too. And supporting Brexit is as harmful to the rest of us as to your constituents.

Instead you have chosen to be a delegate, a messenger, rather than a representative. You have chosen to be swayed by the strength of feeling of your constituents over matters which are manifestly answerable, and should have been answered.

You remarked in your speech at the conference on the contrast between Walthamstow and Wigan. Here you implied that it was all very well for those comfortably placed in Walthamstow to approve of EU membership, but that the residents of Wigan are not so well placed. This remark is disconcerting.

One would want Wigan to be as well-off as the most comfortable areas of the rest of the country – not made worse off purely out of resentment towards other parts of the country. If Walthamstow has benefited from EU membership, that is reason to believe that with a better government and a fairer economy, Wigan can too. But Brexit will make that harder: its voters, misled by the false information and false promises into thinking that their struggles were the fault of the EU, have been led to believe that a solitary UK outside the world’s largest and most successful trading area, indeed outside any of the world’s trading areas, will somehow be better – although it is precisely like leaping from an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic in a rowing-boat.

READ: Labour MP ‘genuinely wondering’ if the party can survive Brexit

I notice that you are one of the sponsors of a bill for constitutional reform and the restructuring of the United Kingdom along federal lines. There is much in that bill to approve. But as part of it, there is a proposal to hold a referendum on the proposed reforms. This proposed referendum would require a supermajority of 65%, together with majorities in all the constituent parts of the UK. Average turnouts in UK elections are around 70% of the electorate, so a supermajority of 65% of votes cast equates to a threshold of 45% of the total electorate. This is what is needed for a reasonable basis for consent to the major changes that the bill proposes.

Such a high supermajority, and threshold requirements, for major constitutional change is wise. But it makes me wonder how you can talk of ‘respecting’ the advisory 2016 referendum in which the Leave vote was a mere 37% of the electorate, and in which two of the four parts of the UK had majorities in favour of Remain. That 37% is below even the threshold required for a trade union to call a strike.

I leave aside the fact that the Leave campaigns have broken electoral law, that Facebook has been fined $5,000,000,000 for Cambridge Analytica’s privacy violations, and that lies and false promises were rife in the referendum campaign. What do you owe to your constituents given the fact that their vote was premised on their having been misled, lied to, and subjected to privacy violations?

More than three years have passed since the 2016 referendum. Far more is known now about what will be meant by a Brexit. In light of the poor basis for the 2016 result, the far greater awareness now, the time passed, the inability of parliament to resolve matters, the collapse of the two ‘main’ political parties, and the clear evidence that much of the country has changed its mind about Brexit – it is clear that the right if not indeed only path forward is a referendum. We should use a referendum to check, preparatory to the major changes proposed in the bill you co-sponsor, whether we wish to continue with a Brexit process and all the many years of disruption and further austerity that means.

I agree with you on one major point: that there is no returning to the status quo ante. Brexit has torn our constitution and political arrangements to shreds, and revealed the hollowness at the heart of our politics and order of governance. The once-upon-a-time UK cannot survive this. Either the union will die, or your federal idea will need to be born. As you know, because you are a Remainer, the inevitable and necessary changes will be far better done within the economic security and partnership of the EU than while trying to re-establish some sort of footing in the world economy, thus doubling-down on the troubles and trials we now face.

I ask you to justify, in the light of the above, your decision to follow your constituents down the path they chose on such a mistaken and deleterious basis, given that your own judgment, and your duty as an MP to follow your judgment, was the opposite.

Yours sincerely,

A.C. Grayling

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