Opinion: Labour must back a second Brexit vote

Cllr Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, is demanding a second Brexit vote. Picture: POLLY H

Cllr Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, is demanding a second Brexit vote. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

As hard as we work here in Haringey to bring the borough’s diverse communities together, the chaos of a disorderly Brexit is threatening to pull our society apart.

Brexit was never primarily about Britain's membership of the European Union, but encapsulated public concerns around housing, education, health and welfare. It involved populist inspired discontent about immigration, and justice, but also anxiety about the impact of austerity, and a growing perception of disengagement and unfairness in British society.

Cameron's ill-conceived referendum unleashed a toxic strand in British politics. A contagion that had afflicted the Tory party subsequently spread across the whole country. Last month's EU parliamentary elections reiterated how divided our country is. Nationally, the Brexit Party swept to victory with 29 MEPs, while here in Haringey, residents clearly expressed their desire to remain in the EU.

Whilst most commentators marvelled at the performance of the Brexit Party, a closer inspection of the results made it clear that the loss of support for the Conservatives and Ukip in these polls was less than the level of support attained by team Farage; while Labour lost votes to both sides, Tory remainers also deserted Theresa May to vote for pro-remain parties.

This past weekend has seen Tory leadership contenders desperately tacking to the right, talking up no deal, reneging on the divorce agreement, and three of them refusing to rule out shutting down parliament to secure that No-Deal Brexit. As Sir Keir Starmer MP said: "Anybody considering doing [that] is not fit to be prime minister." So much for bringing power back to Westminster from Brussels!

As I look at a paralysed Westminster, obsessed with Brexit but without the wherewithal to resolve it, I have to consider the implications of this stasis for Haringey residents.

The Local Government Association has been negotiating with ministers on what the forthcoming local government financial settlement must look like. Many councils are experiencing a de facto collapse in some service provision. Furthermore, some councils are reaching the limit of their ability to respond to real-term funding cuts, with 11 local authorities (including three in London) using at least 44 per cent of their reserves over the past three financial years. Westminster remains unable to focus on this.

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Austerity continues to afflict the streets of Britain. Whilst Tory leadership contenders promise more tax cuts for the wealthy, we are still short of police on our streets - not just in Haringey, but across London. Adult social care remains in crisis - under-funded, yet increasingly essential. That's just for starters.

Labour has sought to unite the country, because we represent the most pro-Leave and pro-Remain parts of the UK. However, the EU election results show we can no longer sit astride the fence because we risk being blown off it.

I am acutely aware that with a general election likely within the next five months, Labour will need to listen to its members. I agree with Haringey's two MPs that we must speak frankly to the electorate with a position supporting a second referendum, and a commitment to campaign for remain. Labour's answer to the populist, clarion voices of putative Tory prime ministers, and their lurch to the right, must be to focus on what is in the best interest of the whole country. Labour must not be afraid of the electorate if we remain committed to our principles. That way we can deliver for the people of Haringey, as well as for the people of Britain.