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Here’s how we can get the upper hand over Brexiteers

Caroline Lucas - Credit: Archant

It’s nonsense to say the fight starts now. The truth is, the Brexiteers won the first round, but there are ways to now get the upper hand

Some people call it a ‘hard Brexit’. Some opt for ‘chaotic Brexit’. But I’ve settled on a more accurate description for what we’re heading towards: ‘Extreme brexit’.

Look at each of the policy positions taken by the Government so far on Brexit and you can see how the extreme views of UKIP and their allies have seeped into the heart of the Conservative Party.

We’re heading out of the single market – despite Leave campaigners pledging time after time that we wouldn’t. We’re leaving the customs union. We’re ending free movement, come hell or high water, and without any regard for the damage that even the Office for Budget Responsibility say it will have on our economy.

But perhaps most extreme of all is the Government’s continued refusal to guarantee EU citizens a right to stay here. Can you imagine any Leave campaigner outside of the far right defending such a position before the referendum?

As the EU bill leaves Parliament – and we wait for Theresa May to pull the trigger on Article 50 – it’s worth thinking for a moment how she ended up with this gun in her hand.

This is, without a doubt, a Conservative creation. After decades of feeding the right wing press anti-Europe lines, and after trying to shoot UKIP’s fox by putting the referendum in their manifesto, the Tories landed themselves in the strange position of campaigning in favour of staying in a community they’d spent a generation trying to undermine.

It was a hard place to start from and the Stronger In Campaign – dominated as it was by voices of the political establishment – meant that a Leave vote became a lightning rod for discontent.

What happened next, however, was a genuine surprise. A toxic combination of a lurch to the right by a new PM and a Labour party utterly unwilling to offer principled opposition led us to this Brexit precipice.

Labour’s first mistake was fatal: pledging that they’d vote to trigger Article 50 according to the Government’s timetable, and no matter what happened in Parliament beforehand. Indeed, to see most Labour MPs troop through the lobbies with the Tories on this Bill, despite Ministers not accepting a single opposition amendment, was extremely disappointing.

Though a large part of the war against an extreme Brexit is still being fought, we are kidding ourselves if we think ‘the fight starts here’ or if we do anything other than concede a victory to the Tories in the first round of fighting.

Of course there is still much left to fight for as these divorce proceedings move forwards, indeed what happens next will define this country for a generation or more.

Our first priority – and one that is shared by all progressive parties and a number of Tories too – must be to guarantee EU citizens their right to stay here. I have heard from countless EU nationals and businesses in my constituency who are profoundly worried by the ongoing and unforgivable uncertainty – and desperately seek some certainty about what’s going to happen.

We must also ensure that we protect our hard won EU protections as the Great Repeal Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Our environmental rules face a cocktail of threats, as I noted in my report ‘Exiting the EU, not the Environment’. There are at least 1,100 environmental laws which need to be transferred into the British statute – and there’s a serious risk of some of them being jettisoned.

At present the European Commission monitors these rules and the ECJ acts upon breaches of legislation – with no similar system in place in the UK we risk EU laws becoming unenforceable. We’re also set to quit key agencies like the European Environment Agency and the Chemicals Agency – which support implementation and development of environmental policies.

Such myriad risks are why we need a Green Guarantee that will deliver on the Government’s commitment to ensuring that ‘we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it’. We also need to immediately begin work on introducing an Environment Act to ensure that crucial rules and enforcement don’t drop off as Britain exits the EU.

One of the greatest tussles of the next few years will be around Britain’s trade policy – and it’s absolutely crucial that progressives don’t cede this ground to the right. We’ve seen in the USA with Trump, and just across the Channel with Le Pen, how demagogues are twisting a justified discontent with the profound effects of globalisation and using it to rally people to their causes.

Industries have been gutted and communities have suffered from the rise of corporate power through globalisation. Here in Britain the left must match the Trumpist economic critique with one of our own, and offer a positive vision of multiculturalism to counter the right’s nativism.

For a start that must mean fighting for a close relationship with the EU, preferably as a member of the single market. But it must also mean looking out into the world as we strike deals with other countries.

This week I challenged the Prime Minister in Parliament over a controversial EU-Canada trade deal called CETA. The deal, which was signed recently, hands power to corporations through a dreaded mechanism called the Investor Court System which allows companies to sue Governments which pass policies which interfere with their profitmaking (strengthening workers’ rights for examples). It’s deeply concerning that the Government sees deals like CETA as a blueprint for Britain’s future negotiations with other countries as ministers pursue their vision of the UK becoming an offshore tax-haven economy willing to engage in a race to the bottom on trade as we desperately seek new partners in a post-Brexit world.

We must offer an alternative vision to these damaging trade deals. Fair trade between countries is possible, and offers an alternative vision to the corporate globalisation that’s done such damage to our communities and undermined people’s faith in politics. Putting forward a plan for trade between countries that has environmental and social protection at its heart is an antidote to the Tories extreme Brexit and must be put front and centre of the progressive case as we move forward.

Unless something extremely dramatic happens, we have to face the grim reality that the next two years will not be a fight between Brexit and no Brexit. Instead it will be a battle between competing visions of what a post-Brexit Britain will look like.

The Green Party will focus our energies on opposing the Conservatives’ extreme plans – and offering serious alternatives on environmental and social protections, freedom of movement and trade. The fight started on June 24 – and it’s high time we gained the upper hand.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

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