(Sent off just now.)
As a multi-racial Commonwealth man at the time – a British imperial historian, indeed – I believe I may have voted against Common Market membership in 1975. But circumstances are very different today, both global, and in my case personal, so I have become a passionate ‘Remainer’ over the years, while acknowledging the many flaws in the present-day EU; even to the extent of acquiring (dual) Swedish citizenship earlier this year. (I think you met my partner Kajsa a couple of years ago. You won’t remember.) The main object of that was to enable me to retain my European identity, which Brexit will take away from us.
So I voted ‘Remain’ in 2016, and was – like very many others – shocked by the result of that referendum. I was also aware of the Machiavellian trickery and deceit which secured it, and which in other circumstances would have justified nullifying it. I never believed that the majority of the ‘Leave’ side was really voting on the issue of Europe at all, which opinion polls show was of very little concern to them before 2016; but voted mainly in order to express their discontent with successive governments, going back to Thatcher but particularly under the impact of ‘austerity’, which they believed had neglected them socially and economically, especially in the north of England. This was compounded by their frustration at the fact that our electoral system did not seem to reflect these feelings in Parliament.
But ‘the people spoke’ in 2016 in favour of Brexit, especially in Hull; and – more to the point, I believe – appear to be still in favour of pushing it through, backed up by threats of violence and even civil war. I’m sure it’s only a minority who would go this far, but it’s scary nonetheless. It’s for that reason – to ‘appease’ them, if you like – that I’m now reluctantly in favour of a compromise Brexit (or ‘Brino’), along the lines advocated from the very beginning, I believe, by Jeremy Corbyn: that is, political disentanglement from the EU but remaining in the common trading area and the Customs Union, with all that implies for ‘free movement’ and the like. It’s not my ideal solution, but it would surely satisfy most of the 52% who voted for Brexit, while easing the situation for Remainers; and, most importantly, helping to defuse the toxic and even dangerous situation we’re witnessing in British politics just now.
It wouldn’t of course reconcile the leaders of the Brexit movement – Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Farage, Gove and the rest: rich public school ‘elitists’ all, by the way – whose underlying but scarcely hidden agenda is to ‘complete the Thatcher revolution’, as one of them has put it, by destroying the employment rights and environmental standards which at present are guaranteed by the EU, and so reduce Britain (or perhaps just England, if Scotland and NI leave) to the position of a neo-liberal dystopia dependent – ‘informal-colonially’, as we imperial historians would put it – on a neo-liberal America for its trade.
That will almost certainly be the ultimate outcome if Boris Johnson’s ‘deal’ is allowed to pass in the House of Commons without amendment. It’s not only our relations with the European continent that are threatened, but the social-democratic domestic settlement that has kept us largely immune from serious civil disruption and even proto-fascism since 1945.
It must be difficult for a Remainer MP representing a ‘Leave’ constituency. But you will not, I believe, be betraying your constituents (of whom I’m one) if you help obstruct the current ‘deal’ by voting for it to be amended in the Commons this week.
I’ll be backing you, by the way, at the constituency re-selection meeting on Friday. I guess I’m more ‘Corbynist’ than you; but I greatly admire you as a constituency MP and for the causes you champion in the House. I also feel that the Labour party should be (to coin a cliché) a ‘broad church’; and that local selection contests at this crucial point in its history are needlessly divisive.
“I’d like the Labour Party to be braver and provide leadership on this issue,” Mr Khan said, ahead of vying for a second term at City Hall in May. “Sometimes, saying to people who may want to leave the EU, ‘Listen, I respect you, but let me explain to you I think you’re wrong and why I think we should campaign to remain in the EU’.” Mr Khan added: “That’s the conversation we should be having rather than trying to be all things to all people.”
Yes, leadership, convincing Labour Leavers to accept the Remain case rather than pandering to them; a tactic that has Labour in a position where a 10-point poll deficit foreshadows an electoral wipe-out.