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To win back power Labour must now commit to revoking Article 50

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer at Labour Party conference. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

To win back Remainers from other anti-Brexit parties Labour must now commit to urgently revoking Article 50 regardless of a People’s Vote.

Let me be clear: the best way out of the current Brexit impasse is to go back to the people in a final say referendum with an option to remain. I am one of many young people who have attended various campaigning events, including the people’s vote marches in London, to signal my unwavering support for stopping Brexit via a further plebiscite now the terms of what Brexit entails are much clearer.

But the regrettable circumstances, as they are at present, indicate that a general election may be imminent with Boris Johnson not having the numbers in parliament to push through his reckless ‘do or die’ commitment to deliver Brexit by 31st October.

Currently, were a snap general election to be called which led to a Labour victory, the new government would eventually hold a fresh EU referendum with remain on the ballot paper. For those Labour members, like myself, who have been pushing for Labour to back a public vote for some time, this is no doubt a victory given how unmalleable the leadership appeared to be on this matter. But the reality of this policy inevitably creates unnecessary conflicts and conundrums that the Party could do without.

The first thing to consider for those who want Labour to govern inside of the EU, is whether, as things currently stand, they are on track to secure a majority in general election. With Nigel Farage hinting at a possible electoral pact with between his Brexit Party and the Tories, it is reasonable to believe that the leave-vote will by and large be united were Britain to go to the polls tomorrow. Contrastingly, and as the eminent pollster Sir John Curtice has observed, the remain-vote is split between Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP; that is without even mentioning the Greens and Plaid Cymru.

Labour, and rightly in my view, have come under fire for not being clear enough on Brexit, as well as failing to be visibly pro-remain; as such the Party’s recent polling performance reflects the fact that many voters who would otherwise look to Labour have drifted off to the likes of Lib Dems in search of Brexit clarity. For further proof of this very fact, you may look to the outcome of May’s European elections.

A clear and unequivocal manifesto promise to revoke Article 50 once in office would surely bring many disaffected voters back on board the Labour bus. Unsurprisingly, such a pledge may come up against heavy resistance by those occupying seats in the Labour ‘heartlands’ that voted to leave. But those Labour MPs must make a positive case for EU membership, while being abundantly clear that stopping Brexit doesn’t mean their constituents’ concerns around a range of issues will be neglected. Even if votes are lost (which no doubt they will be), one could imagine any Labour gains from having a clear Brexit policy to revoke Article 50 offsetting the losses.

Besides the potential electoral advantages, it is worth exploring the merits of prioritising the outright revocation of Article 50 over a further referendum should Jeremy Corbyn secure the keys to No 10.

First, any general election which happens before Brexit will no doubt act as a proxy EU referendum in any event. Prime minister Johnson’s administration (presumably backed up by Farage) will continue to be hellbent on delivering Brexit after all, and it is axiomatic this very issue will be made the sole focus of any election. So, in what will be a de facto plebiscite, and to minimise voter confusion, it is vital all parties – including Labour – pick a side: remain or leave.

Second, just suppose Labour did get in to power, and attempted to make good on their promise to hold a final say referendum, consider for a moment the procedural and substantive questions that will flow from it.

Does, as we are led to believe, Jeremy Corbyn send his Brexit team to Brussels to negotiate a ‘Labour deal’? Quite apart from how much of a shame it would be to waste the talents and skills of the Sir Keir Starmer on negotiating a deal he knows cannot better EU membership, the end point would produce a sticky situation for Labour in which the leadership would have to contemplate campaigning against the deal they have spent months negotiating.

Furthermore, rifts in the cabinet between those who are of a remain persuasion to those would back Labour’s deal would soon emerge – creating a divided government. Why take on the burden of offering a referendum when the first one was only called by a hubristic David Cameron trying to resolve a fractious internal dispute in the Tory Party?

Third, precious time in government, valuable tax-payers’ money and the resources of our civil service, would be spent re-negotiating with Brussels with the risk of Brexit (and indeed countless years of further negotiations) if leave win again. If, as the UN special rapporteur Philip Alston reports, 14 million people in the UK are in poverty, why spend a minute longer dealing with Brexit when in government? This is when considering a Labour government would be engaging in negotiations on the back of a referendum result of which is unquestionably tainted by electoral law breaches perpetrated by the leave side.

Brexit has gone too far for too long; the prime minister’s latest ostensible strategy to bring about his catastrophic no-deal Brexit by way of prorogation serves to underline this. All the while foodbank Britain is ever present, whilst the effects of austerity continues to dog public services and cause misery for millions. If Labour are serious about governing for the many, they should put an end to this Brexit disaster once and for all by pledging to cancel it altogether.

– Chevan Ilangaratne is law graduate with a keen interest in human right

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