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Labour MPs ‘would be abandoning party values’ if they support May on Brexit

Anti-Brexit campaigners take part in the People's Vote March. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Young Labour member BEN DUNCAN-DUGGAL says the party’s MPs would be betraying its core values if it supports Theresa May on Brexit.

On a tense June night two years ago, I awoke with a jolt at 6am. The yellow-blue swingometer on the BBC News website ticked over as it loaded. I saw that we’d voted to leave, and I was scared.

I knew that the 2008 recession had been a nightmare for graduates. There’s even evidence that the recession is continuing to affect their careers today. I worried that future graduates, including myself, would suffer a similar fate in the aftermath of Brexit.

I, and a lot of my 20-something friends, still have this fear digging away at the back of our minds. We saw Brexit as anathema to our futures and to our generation’s progressive values. Those of us who are Labour members were doubly offended.

Our party was founded by leaders like Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald who infused a restless desire to fight for young people and the working classes into its democratic socialist spirit. In his famous ‘Sunshine of Socialism’ speech in 1914, Keir Hardie delivered a ringing endorsement of the Labour Party as a permanently progressive institution in our politics.

‘The Independent Labour Party has pioneered progress in this country, is breaking down sex barriers and class barriers, is giving a lead to the great women’s movement as well as to the great working-class movement.’

The Labour Party, Keir proclaimed, would ‘in the future, through good report and through ill, pursue the even tenor of its way, until the sunshine of socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.’

The government’s utter failure despite its promises to deliver any attempt at just such a progressive Brexit is why I don’t understand how Labour MPs can choose to vote for the Chequers proposal in the meaningful vote, as ‘up to 30’ of them are reportedly considering. I recognise nothing of the Labour Party founded by Keir Hardie in the Chequers proposal.

To be clear: the number of Labour MPs willing to back Chequers is far lower than that. The range of six to 15 is more realistic – 30 smells like a Downing Street briefing.

Secondly, even six to 15 is too high. A Brexit that removes long-cherished opportunities for the young, that reverberates with the astounding cynicism and political posturing that have been the standout themes of this mess, should neither be countenanced nor contemplated by a party that stands for the many, not the few.

Labour MPs must not vote with the government on its car-crash Chequers deal. To do so in fear of a No Deal Brexit, rather than fighting for the aspirations of Labour’s core duties to young people and workers, would abandon core Labour values.

A meaningful vote is not, and should not be, a vote on no-deal: if the government loses it they will need to make a statement to the Commons on how they will proceed. This is significant because it means that Labour MPs do not need to vote for this deal just to stop us from crashing out.

To assume that these are the only two options – frying pan or fire – is to narrow-mindedly restrict the future of the country to two bad options.

When they make this choice, there are some things Labour MPs should think about.

They should think about the people, especially the young people who have only known EU membership and its benefits, who won’t be able to live with the ones they love. My friend met his girlfriend at university three years ago, before Brexit. She’s German, and was planning to move here long-term for her partner.

But now, the government wants to make that difficult: they’re proposing stopping EU migration for people earning less than £50,000. Suddenly, the fact that she doesn’t earn enough money means uncertainty and probably separation.

They should think about some of the people who will lose their jobs. In January 2018 the government’s own Brexit analysis revealed that the country as a whole will be 2-8% poorer over 15 years as a result.

This will not be evenly distributed; some regions will be disproportionately affected. The North East is an example – it was formerly dominated by heavy manufacturing. But then that changed. The plant closure at Redcar shed 1,200 jobs in one go, and left other workers looking over their shoulders. Four months after the plant closed, more than half were still unemployed.

Mostly, they should think about the most vulnerable in society and who will lose out most if certain fundamental rights can no longer be ensured. The Charter of Fundamental Rights contains a range of workers’ rights: the rights to fair working conditions and protection against unjustified dismissal for example.

A vote for the government’s deal will hurt workers – in terms of economics, in terms of employment, and in terms of rights. It will hurt young people forever. A deal that doesn’t provide these vital protections is one that Labour MPs should reject without exception.

If and when May’s deal fails Labour’s six tests, the party will rightfully whip its MPs against backing the PM’s exit plan. The ‘sunshine of socialism and human freedom’ shall not be obtained through May’s regressive and damaging plans. Labour MPs should hold strong to the oldest and strongest values our party represents, and chuck Chequers.

• Ben Duncan-Duggal (@benduncanduggal) is a supporter of Our Future, Our Choice, the largest youth campaign for a People’s Vote. He is a Labour Party member.

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