Opinion: Don’t vote for ‘intolerance and hatred’

Catherine West MP has voted in the EU elections.

Catherine West MP has voted in the EU elections. - Credit: Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons

When the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU three years ago, I never dreamt we’d be fighting the European Elections this month. Yet the shambles of Theresa May’s negotiations that have left government paralysed and Parliament gridlocked means here we are.

As a proud remainer who voted against triggering Article 50, voted to retain our single market and customs union membership and was one of the first MPs to come out in support of a public vote on the final deal, I am very pleased to be casting my vote for Labour's excellent candidates today because I want Britain to remain at the heart of discussions in the European Parliament - not out on the side lines.

It's a view that's shared across our city. Hornsey and Wood Green has always been strongly remain but the latest YouGov polling reveals seven out of 10 Londoners would rather stay in the EU than leave with Theresa May's Brexit deal or a catastrophic no deal.

Yet as we go to the ballot box today, I am concerned the far-right are seeking to exploit these elections for their own purposes. I've been campaigning actively across my constituency because I fear that if the progressive, internationalist voice is split it will open up a path for the likes of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson to try and pretend their intolerance, hatred and division represent this country. They do not. Haringey has a proud record of standing up against racism and those who seek to divide our diverse community. We must use these European elections to stand up for an inclusive vision and future for our country and the values of dignity, equality and non-discrimination that are at the heart of the Labour movement.

Defeating intolerance sometimes means having difficult conversations. Some people have understandably expressed concerns about calling for a confirmatory vote as the referendum campaign was so unpleasant and divisive, splitting communities and in many cases families. For areas that voted to leave or were divided 50:50 I know it isn't an easy decision to reopen the debate.

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But I do not believe we can or should avoid that battle of values and press ahead with something so damaging for our country. Instead, we must challenge the prejudice and bigotry that Brexit unleashed and that saw a spike in hate crime after the first referendum and make the argument for the internationalist values we actually believe in. Jeremy Corbyn has himself spoken of a second referendum as part of the "healing process" that could bring the country back together and this whole process to a conclusion.

This utter paralysis of government that has seen Parliament go a month now without a vote on anything cannot continue. Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, my neighbouring MP Sir Keir Starmer, has been very clear that for any Brexit deal to get the backing of enough Labour MPs "you can't leave a confirmatory vote out of the package". I believe he is right. If we get that referendum we must seize the mantle and set out a positive vision of a fairer Europe with a well-funded industrial strategy for each region, a programme of investment in genuinely affordable housing, high quality and accessible transport and a sense of hope for our young people. We did it after WWII when the EU was first founded and we can and must do it again for the 21st century.

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