Let’s face it, we could either spend the next few years trying to implement a doomed-to-fail Brexit with fewer resources to tackle Britain’s urgent and growing problems or instead turn our attention to tackling growing social justice and collapsing public services with more money and time to do so. Now the facts are clear, to leave the EU without consent would leave Parliament guilty of wilful negligence.
In Swansea, like elsewhere, many who voted for good reasons to leave the EU in 2016 are now saying “it’s taking longer, costing more and more complicated than we were told”. The offer of more money, more trade, taking back control of our laws and immigration was a very attractive and reasonable thing to vote for. That’s why so many across all our regions and social groups did so. And those who had suffered most from years of austerity were given a scapegoat –foreigners from the EU who were taking their jobs, services and money - and told that things would get better after Brexit.
However, three years on, the true implications are unfolding before the eyes of Leave and Remain voters alike and it’s not a pretty sight. We would have less money due to the £39billion divorce bill and an economy shrunken by less trade and big companies like Airbus relocating to mainland Europe. The UK would have less power outside team-EU to negotiate trade deals with the US and China. Also, trading on WTO terms would require obedience to the WTO’s Council of Ministers, Commission and panel of unelected judges instead of having greater control within the EU’s more democratic structures. An open border with the EU in Northern Ireland will mean we can’t control migration and UK trade deals with undoubtedly mean giving away VISAs in order to agree to trade deals with other countries across the world.
Voters now know that, one by one, the promises of Brexit are evaporating. They also know that the claim of “the biggest democratic exercise in a generation” rings hollow as the ballot was won by targeted manipulation and lying on Facebook. The level of illegality would have ruled a general election null and void and renders the advisory Referendum flawed as the legal basis for withdrawal. People feel cheated and swindled into a duff deal they never signed up for.
Meanwhile, they watch with dismay as the UK’s social fabric suffers another tear each day with daily crises in the NHS and justice system, homelessness, virulent poverty and foodbanks. Brexit will make things permanently worse. Enough is enough. Public confidence and patience continues to plummet as Brexit revealed itself as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – a tapestry of naked lies that the people can see through as politicians stubbornly claim they can’t. The last thing our country needs is two more wasted years of “implementation” of false promises.
That’s why the people must have the final say with a public vote on the EU Exit Deal -choosing between the real negotiated EU-UK deal on the table versus the current deal from staying in the EU. This is not a “second referendum”, to be dismissed as “best out of three?”. It’s the public’s democratic right having seen the real costs and benefits, to decide if they still want to proceed - on whether to take the plunge now they know the water’s freezing.
Any Brexit deal is unlikely to satisfy either those who want close trading relationships through the Customs Union and Single Market or those who want to cut our ties. So Theresa May should ask Parliament to agree her deal subject to a public vote. But there are sound ideological reasons for both main parties to oppose any Brexit deal.
Some Labour colleagues mistakenly argue that Brexit will allow more state intervention. In fact, the EU provides for greater public ownership and Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU states that “the Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules of Member States governing the rules of property ownership”. In contrast, state aid intervention not permitted inside the EU is likely to be “prohibited” or “actionable” by the WTO and to trigger economic penalties against the UK if we Brexit. Brexit is a betrayal of socialism as any future Labour government would have a smaller economy to divide more equally and workers’ rights and environmental protection would no longer be guaranteed by the EU.
Meanwhile, Tories who claim they support free trade are planning to leave the most integrated and frictionless international market in the world to instead face a rule-book written by a WTO Council of Ministers with less UK say, run by a WTO Commission and enforced with tariffs and penalties from a WTO unelected Panel of Judges. That’s in order to have less worker, consumer and environmental protection.
Tories who say they support the Union must realise that to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland would mean Northern Ireland must permanently remain in the Customs Union. It’s backstop, full-stop, however many Tories stamp their feet. Their DUP sallies should remember that the Good Friday Agreement requires a referendum on reunification of Ireland if the public want it. Fifty-eight per cent of Northern Ireland voters voted to Remain so if the DUP want to keep the Union they should oppose Brexit altogether. Similarly, Sturgeon has announced that she will set out a timeline for another independence referendum in Scotland based on what happens between now and March 29.
So, Brexit neither satisfies promises to voters or the ideological needs of either main party. All we are left with as opposition to offering the public a vote on the Deal is that it would “anger” people. But that anger will be dwarfed by a conflagration of rage if we do Brexit, and those who were promised so much are plunged into deeper poverty.
Tragically, those who whipped up populist support in 2016 over a lack of democracy in the EU, are now encouraging a No-Deal Brexit on WTO rules that would plunge us into chaos with far less democratic control over our destiny.
Parliament cannot absolve itself of its fundamental duty to protect the future interests of the people it serves. It must not force-feed a Brexit no one could have imagined at any cost. To leave the EU without consent would be an act wilful negligence and our children would never forgive us for such a crime against democracy.
Geraint Davies is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Swansea West