We are less than 15 months from the end of the Brexit negotiating deadline. Many people across the country are working tirelessly to fight the Tories’ Extreme Brexit, avoid a chaotic UK exit from the EU and keep all options on the table.
Last week, Owen Jones published a piece in the Guardian arguing that only a ‘populist strategy’ can stop Brexit, but that the anti-Brexit movement has so far failed to deliver it. I couldn’t agree more with the first part. On the second part, Owen is right that campaign efforts need to be supercharged and get much louder from now on, and we need the help of him, civil society groups, unions and businesses as the reality of Brexit starts to form. However, he isn’t totally right on this point - crucial groundwork has been done by many across the country and there were some huge wins in 2017 that have set the stage for this year. At Best for Britain, our main priority has been to work with people across the country and empower them to make their voice heard on the most important issue facing this country. We’ve been fighting to keep the EU membership door open and we strongly believe that the only way to make this happen is by activating people who agree with us, but, more importantly, working to connect with those that are weighing up Brexit, and to connect them with their MPs.
In April 2017, Best for Britain, along with other anti-Brexit groups, launched a grassroots tactical voting campaign to help pro-EU voters to get organised and use their vote to (successfully) challenge the Tories’ Extreme Brexit in the June General Election. Since last September, our barnstorm programme has trained over 1000 people from Bridgend, Bristol, Doncaster, Norwich, Portsmouth, Southampton and all across the South East. We’ll train thousands more in the months to come. Our aim has been to give them the knowledge, support and tools to take effective action in their community and campaign for a No Brexit option to be on the table. More than anything, we want to get ourselves out of the way and empower normal people to get on with campaigning all across the country.
Owen Jones argues that while “it is perfectly legitimate to seek to democratically challenge a referendum result… If the referendum result was simply cancelled, it would be regarded as a coup against democracy not just by leave voters, but by many remainers.” This is the reason why, at Best for Britain, we have been fighting to secure a meaningful vote on the final deal; the referendum gave a mandate to negotiate, but not to finalise or secure the deal. During the Withdrawal Bill fight at the end of last year, we backed Dominic Grieve’s Amendment 7 to secure a meaningful vote in Parliament. The amendment was passed by 309 votes for, to 305 votes against, and marked the most important step toward the end of Brexit so far. We believe that when this meaningful vote comes around at the end of negotiations, No Brexit should be on the table of options. The EU referendum granted the government the mandate to begin negotiations with the EU, but the terms of our future relationship with the EU have yet to be agreed. We think all options, including the No Brexit option, should be set out against each other at the end of the process, and Parliament should be free to decide what is best for the country - particularly given recent polling shows that more people now think that Brexit was a bad idea than a good one. It wouldn’t be cancelling Brexit, it would be respecting the complete democratic process - and a vote in Parliament is part of that. Our Parliament must have the same rights as the European Parliament, which is taking its right to reject very seriously.
“Our Parliament must have the same rights as the European Parliament, which is taking its right to reject very seriously”
2017 showed that the fight against Brexit is anything but “a coup against democracy”. And, if there is one thing in Jones’ piece I must object to, it is his assertion that “If Labour committed to overturning Brexit, the party would haemorrhage many of the three million or so of its voters who backed leave, losing seats as a consequence.” All data points to a very different reality: Labour faces much greater political risk by supporting Brexit than fighting it. First, we analysed the 2017 General Election voting results, and the data suggests that tactical voting was a crucial factor in Labour’s performance. Our constituency by constituency analysis shows that many voters may have picked Labour as the anti-Brexit vehicle, with Labour’s vote correlating closely with the number of remain voters in that constituency. This correlation is only apparent in areas where Labour was the most likely anti-Conservative party - and it is the tactical shift of remain voters wanting to halt extreme Brexit that added to the anti-Tory vote to get many candidates over the line. In constituencies where this was clearly not the case (e.g. Oxford West and Abingdon, Bath), the Labour vote increase was significantly smaller than the national average. This means that the grassroots anti-Brexit vote was fundamental to the Labour Party’s successful campaign, helping Labour cross the line in close marginal seats. These findings suggest that Labour could get closer to winning a majority if it does more to attract anti-Brexit voters who are still backing the Tories. According to Ipsos Mori, Labour has the votes of 54% of remain voters to hold onto in the next election. Meanwhile the Tories have 26% of remain voters still to lose. Second, our analysis of the British Electoral Study (BES) data reveals that everywhere in the country, remain supporters made up the largest proportion of Labour voters in June 2017. The leave vote was always far behind the remain vote, getting to a maximum of a little over 30% in the most pro-Leave areas. This was highlighted last February by John Curtice, when he questioned Labour’s strategy of appealing to leave voters in the Stoke and Copeland by-elections. Finally, a recent poll showed that a quarter of Labour voters could switch party by the next election and more than 60% want Labour to stop Brexit. Another one reveals that almost eight in ten Labour members want a referendum on the Brexit deal.
Our strategy has been to work with normal people and support them to raise their voice, and to ensure they can rely on their MPs to reject any deal that does not deliver what’s best for the country. We want to work with as many people as possible to help us open up that democratic choice for the country next autumn. There should be all options on the table in October, even the Tories have set a benchmark of stating that any Brexit deal should deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ of membership. If it doesn’t, we should be able to reject it - and signs point to Brexit currently being used and abused to deliver an ideological vision of an ultra-low tax, deregulated economy that would make the very poorest in this country even more vulnerable than they are now. A vote on the emerging deal in autumn is a democratic decision point on Brexit - one our country has a right to before the potential exit date of March 2019. To turn that moment into a rubber-stamping exercise would be anti-democratic. No one should have to sign a blank contract. This would be the ultimate example of a coup against democracy.
Eloise Todd is CEO of Best for Britain