Watch David Lammy’s barnstorming speech to the Commons on Brexit
PUBLISHED: 08:58 05 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:01 05 December 2018
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Anti-Brexit campaigner David Lammy delivered one of the best speeches in the first day of the Brexit debate in the Commons.
Lammy used his speech to remind Conservatives in the House that Churchill understood Europe – and that it stood for “working together”, “freedom” and a “refusal to submit to the tyranny of fascism”.
He likened Theresa May’s deal to “Frankenstein’s monster - an ugly beast that no-one voted for or wanted.”
The Labour MP said that the Brexiteers’ vision of independence was a “fantasy” and compared it to an “angry teenager” throwing a tantrum and running away.
He said they were still “mourning Suez - Britain’s last fling of the colonial dice” and said far from “taking back control” they were actually giving away control.
Lammy said that “Britain did not become great in total isolation” and that it “thrived by sharing our sovereignty, not stockpiling it.”
He appealed to waverers in his own party to look at the words of Keir Hardie - Labour’s founding father - and asked if supporting Theresa May’s deal was really in line with the party’s values.
He said: “Can you really vote for this politics of division and hate? Can you really vote to slash workers’ rights and protections? Can you vote to give tax avoiders a sanctuary? Can you vote to hand over more power to the clumsy hand of the market?”
You can watch the full speech on The New European website and read the script below.
David Lammy’s speech to the House of Commons
The European Union was once just a remarkable dream—a hope that our countries which fought and murdered each other on an industrial scale twice in one century could come together, a refusal to return to extreme nationalism and a determination to prevent more bloody conflicts in which tens of millions are killed. The audacious idea of European integration was motivated by fear, but it was made possible by shared ideals—democracy, human rights, equality and freedom—and a refusal to submit to the tyranny of fascism ever again.
After the second world war, Winston Churchill said in 1946:
“If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory”.
Today, however, some Conservative colleagues talk about total independence from Europe as though it were a virtue. Let me remind them that Churchill understood the European dream is to build a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. He understood that it is about pooling sovereignty, working together and sharing control.
Let us now be honest with the country. Total independence is a fantasy. It is the same idea that motivates an angry teenager to run away from their family. Total independence means throwing a tantrum and ending up in the cold. Total independence is selfishness, individualism, arrogance, superiority, a refusal to work together and the breakdown of the common good. Total independence will lead to total isolation. Let us be honest: Britain did not become great in total isolation. Britain thrived by becoming the biggest treaty-signing power in the world, signing more than 14,000 treaties in the modern age. Britain thrived by sharing, not stockpiling our sovereignty. NATO membership compels us to deploy soldiers when our fellow members are attacked. The Paris climate accords demonstrate how we tackle global threats together, not alone. There is also our membership of the WTO, which commits the UK to supra-national regulation and arbitration. Sovereignty is not an asset to be hoarded, but a resource, which has value only when it is spent.
The hard Brexiteers in the House say that they want to take back the control that we lost because of the European Union. In reality, they are still mourning Suez, Britain’s last fling of the colonial dice. Back then, Anthony Eden failed to recognise that Britain was no longer capable of launching a solo imperial adventure. Let us not fall for the same hubris today.
When those on the other side of the debate say that they want empire 2.0, let us ask what it means. What was imperialism? What was colonialism? At its worst, the British empire was exploitation and subjugation—moral superiority that led to putting humans in shackles and the oppression of black and brown people because this country thought it knew best. Those countries once coloured pink on the globe were not won in negotiations, but taken by force. Today, we need to build a new image of Britain, which brings this country together after years of division. We have to use our imagination. Empire 2.0 is not it.
After the global embarrassment of Suez, Britain became the sick man of Europe. The European Economic Community was set up in 1958, but Britain did not join until 1973. In those years, GDP per head rose by 95% in France, Italy and West Germany, while Britain grew by only half that rate. Our industry and economy had fallen behind. Europe gave post-imperial Britain a chance to regain some wealth and dignity. In the 40 years since, our economy grew faster than those of France, Germany and Italy.
We restored our position on the global stage, but it was not only our prosperity that increased. Our allies in the US respected us for our seat at the top table in Europe, and the rest of the world saw us become a confident nation again: a grown-up country, prepared to give and take for the greater good.
The Brexiteer promise to take back control in 2016 was nothing more than a deluded fantasy. It was a lie that divided friends and families, pandered to racism and xenophobia and caused an extra 638 hate crimes per month. What does it say about the United Kingdom when the UN sends rapporteurs to warn us of increased racism in our country? What does it say about Britain when our politicians play on the fear of migrants, races and religions to win votes? What did it say when Nigel Farage stood in front of a Nazi-inspired poster of refugees with the caption, “Breaking point”?
The founder of the Labour party, Keir Hardie, spoke of socialism’s “promise of freedom”, its “larger hope for humanity” and of “binding the races of the earth into one all-embracing brotherhood”.
I honestly ask my good friends in the party who are still wavering: can you really vote for this politics of division and hate? Can you really vote to slash workers’ rights and protections? Can you vote to give tax avoiders a sanctuary? Can you vote to hand over more power to the clumsy hand of the market?
What I am about to say is not fashionable, but our country’s story of renewal through Europe is one of immigration. We grew as a nation because of free movement. European migrants are not “citizens of nowhere” or “queue jumpers” as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Young, energetic, diverse and willing to pay taxes, EU citizens have given so much. They have done the jobs that our own would not do. Around 3.8 million now live in Britain. Over their lifetimes, they will pay in £78,000 more than they take out.
The contribution of European migrants has not been just financial. Our culture, our art, our music and our food has been permanently improved. The Prime Minister’s deal has emerged as a Frankenstein’s monster—an ugly beast that no one voted for or wanted. To appease hardliners, the transition period can be extended to 2022 at most. That has eradicated our leverage—it is simply not enough time to negotiate a free trade deal. We are now on course for another cliff edge. The deal does not take back control; it gives it away. It surrenders our voting rights on the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament for nothing in return. I cannot vote for any form of Brexit because every form of Brexit is worse for my constituents.
Brexit is a historic mistake. It forgets the lessons of Britain’s past. It forgets the value of immigrants. It forgets that we cannot build a new empire by force. It forgets that in the modern world our nation will flourish not through isolation, but through connection, co-operation and a new vision for the common good. Brexit forgets why this continent came together after two bloody wars.
This country is crying out for a second chance. Seven hundred thousand people marched on the streets of London. Millions more campaigned online and wrote to their MPs. They are asking for one thing: an opportunity to right the wrong of 2016 and another shot at the imperfect but audacious European dream. As John of Gaunt says in Shakespeare’s “Richard II”:
“That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”