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Brexit was a step backwards; our new Prime Minister has the power to reverse it

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

Brexit means Brexit, as Prime Minister Theresa May fondly repeats. While we still don’t have a clue what Brexit really means, once we do, Geraint Davies MP, Labour MP for Swansea West, says the electorate should have a chance to decide whether it really favours that over membership of the EU and argues why the new British government should consider applying the brakes whenever necessary

As a Labour MP, I’ve spent my career fighting for greater social justice, equality, better environmental protections, more tolerance and inclusion, and more opportunities for people, in particular for those least advantaged.

In the 14 years that I’ve been in the UK Parliament, I’ve witnessed a great deal of progress on all of these fronts. Before the Brexit vote, our country was stronger, more inclusive, more diverse and more open. Many people had opportunities previously denied to their parents. Our environment had become cleaner and our streets were safer.

But of course, there was still plenty of work to be done which is why voting to Leave the EU was such a bad idea. It’s not simply that it’s taking us back a few steps but that it’s also taking us in a completely different direction.

Take race relations, for instance. We thought racial violence was a thing of the past, but immediately after the result of the referendum, police reported a major increase in racially motivated hate crimes. The attack on a Polish centre and racist abuse on primary school children hit news headlines.

Or, consider the economy, instead. Latest statistics reveal that in the quarter prior to the vote, UK’s GDP grew by 0.6% – much higher than expected. We were on track to become the largest economy in Europe, overtaking Germany, and unemployment was at a record low. As we know, it all changed in an instant when the UK voted to Leave. We went from being one of the most stable economies in Europe to one of the least, with the GDP of France moving ahead of the UK.

As a member of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, I know just how much of our environmental progress came from EU membership. Since the environment is an international issue, protecting it requires international cooperation too, and this is exactly what the EU offers, with a big enough critical mass to lead global advances in sustainability. Without the EU, our Tory government will have to bow down to the pressure from multinationals, who will put their profits before the planet. Thanks to EU regulations, Britain was no longer the dirty man of Europe. Now, I fear that Britain will put back its dirty old clothes and lead on fracking, accelerating climate change, diesel pollution, and already prematurely killing 40,000 people a year.

This is why our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and her team of Brexit ministers have a lot of work to do. I fear that it will be in vain. What Boris campaigned for, and what 52% of the country voted for, was EU market access with lower costs and less immigration, which indeed is a cynical fabrication. What will inevitably emerge is lower market access at higher costs with similar immigration. So, not only will we retreat on numerous issues including diversity and inclusion, the economy and the environment, but what people voted for, will certainly not happen.

The exit negotiations are at this stage only informal, but European leaders have made one thing clear: we cannot impose controls on immigration if we want to stay in the single market.

Theresa May supported the UK remaining in the EU but she now faces the dilemma of delivering what Leave campaigners promised, and crash the economy, or stay in the market and undermine the reason why most voted to leave. At the present moment, she might be enjoying her honeymoon as a new leader, but the false promises of Brexiteers will plague all Tory houses not least her own.

In the last few weeks, I have introduced two Bills to the Parliament to protect Britain from the impact of Brexit. The first is to safeguard EU environmental protections by retaining them in British law. The second calls for a referendum on the UK-EU Exit Package. If UK voters feel that the terms of leaving the EU don’t reflect their reasonable expectations when they voted to leave, then they can then reject the deal and remain in the EU.  If the promises of a stronger economy with immigration control turn out to be false, the Brits could then vote to come home to the EU.

Theresa May has shrewdly put arch-Brexiteers Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox in charge of the exit negotiations, knowing very well that the political conditions for a second referendum will emerge only when they fail to deliver on Brexit and stir public opinion against themselves and back in favour of the EU. Then, Theresa May will either “offer the people their final say, in light of the facts” to save Britain or accept that the economic uncertainty, political confusion and social regression emerging from the June 23 Brexit plebiscite. I hope she will seize the moment to reverse a referendum that was born of the grubby tactical manoeuvring of her predecessor and resume our place at the table where we can best help shape a stronger, fairer and more sustainable world.