10 February 2017
After the final vote on Brexit in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that “the real fight begins now”. The real fight began on the 24th June 2016: the morning after the referendum. Corbyn, instead of demanding a continuation of the paid holiday leave, maximum working hours and investment in renewable energy that the European Union guaranteed us, asked the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 on the morning of the 24th June. After the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament had to vote on Article 50, he made Theresa May’s life easy after imposing a three-line whip to vote through a Tory Brexit Bill that fails to guarantee any of the benefits we currently enjoy from the EU.
The Green Party agrees with much of Corbyn’s criticism of the European Union. We recognise that the EU has pushed through free-trade deals that only serve the interests of big business rather than the little guy who doesn’t want to see our NHS sold off to the highest bidder. We agreed that David Cameron’s renegotiation was a sham that accepted false, UKIP-peddled ideas about migrants ‘undercutting wages’, when it’s actually poverty-paying bosses and slum landlords that mean so many people are struggling. However, Greens also recognised the benefits of the EU that Corbyn so often didn’t. Following a narrow victory for the Leave campaign in the referendum, there is a mandate for us to leave the EU - however there isn’t a mandate for a Hard Brexit where the European single market and many of its benefits are thrown out of the equation.
Don’t take that from me. Take it from Daniel Hannan - Conservative MEP and prominent Leave campaigner who said that “absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. Take it from Nigel Farage, who said that he’d like the UK to follow the example of “rich”, “self-governing” and “happy” Norway or Switzerland: both members of the European single market. During the referendum campaign, warnings from the in campaign that leaving the EU would mean leaving the single market were dismissed as Project Fear. While we can’t stay in the single market and ditch free movement of people, it is for progressive politicians like Corbyn to make a positive, pro-immigration case - like the argument Green Party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jon Bartley have been making for months.
However, Corbyn hasn’t done that. After a Labour amendment to protect the rights of EU migrants currently living in this country (many of whom having been living here for decades) was rejected, Corbyn still supported Tory Brexit. Not even a rejection of an amendment to spend the £350m a week we apparently spend on the EU could reverse his position. And now that the government has been given the power by the House of Commons to trigger Article 50, there is very little the opposition in Parliament can do to fight for a progressive exit from the EU.
There are very few certainties over what will happen when the untested Article 50 is triggered by the British government. One certainty is, however, that barring all 27 EU nations agreeing to extend the time period, the UK must leave the EU within two years. This is very little time to negotiate an exit package with the EU, and the negotiation will be conducted by the Tory government because of the Act of Parliament passed on Wednesday. Parliament will have virtually no say in the negotiation once Article 50 is triggered - while they may be able to reject the deal that May reaches, it would result in the UK leaving the EU with no deal and the hardest of hard Brexits. The time for Labour to have its say on the deal was before the government was allowed to invoke Article 50, where it could set out its case to the government of what it wanted before it agreed to vote for the bill. And before any wishful thinkers say the Lords can amend the Brexit Bill: the Parliament Act means that the Commons doesn’t have to listen to what the Lords says.
The Green Party is the only party committed to positive, progressive change in this country, and the only party willing to hold the government’s feet to the fire on Brexit.
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