With the walking poles packed and the champagne running dry, the sun is starting to set on Theresa May’s honeymoon. While Britain bakes in an unexpected stream of hot weather, the Prime Minister must be pondering the chill that is lingering in the distance. The return to Brexit Britain may just be the most difficult mountain she has ever had to climb.
The cracks in the Tory Brexit plan have already been exposed. The Government has instructed the NHS to draw up plans that will see the closure of A&E departments and district hospitals across the country. Just as the Brexit brigade scrambled to distance itself from the £350m NHS funding pledge in the days after the referendum, the Government looks set to inflict further cuts.
The Bank of England has been forced to reboot its quantitative easing programme due to the uncertain economic outlook. Business confidence continues to slide at almost the same speed as the pound’s valuation. The country has seen a 57 per cent rise in hate crime since the vote to leave and areas where the leave vote was exceptionally high – such as Lincolnshire – have seen a 191 per cent in hate crime related cases.
Those painting a rosy picture of post-Brexit Britain should remember that post-Brexit is a time period we are yet to enter. This may seem obvious to those of us fixated on Wesminster politics, but the number of people I speak to who tell me how wrong I was about the future outside of Europe is astounding. We haven’t even discussed what date we should trigger our intention to leave and some seem to believe we’ve already left.
This implosion finds itself running alongside another event: the Labour leadership election. It’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s rival has been enacting a “go hard or go home” policy when it comes to Europe. While Smith appears to be supporting the proposal by Labour politician David Lammy – that Parliament should have the sovereign voice on our EU membership – he hasn’t been able to do so eloquently.
Smith’s call for a second referendum is idealistically pleasing to a Remain voter like me. It sounds great that we could simply all vote again and again until we get the result we want. But sadly the Remain campaign has to wake up to the same Brexit reality that the Tories must now confront.
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I don’t want to see a hard-right Brexit plan put into action. I don’t want to see workers rights stripped from the nation as the clowns in the Foreign Office attempt to negotiate trade deals. But it is simply undeniable that the country voted to Leave the European Union. Rather than concentrating efforts on a fantastical plan to avoid the exit door, Labour must plan for serious negotiation. We cannot let the Tories rule the roost when it comes to organising our exit.
Jeremy Corbyn has already addressed this issue, but he needs to go further. We need to be demanding a seat at the negotiation table and arguing along John McDonnell’s “red lines”. While we waste energy debating the possibility of a second referendum, the Tories will be drafting a dangerous exit that will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. It’s time to focus on ensuring that we get the best Brexit deal possible.
Smith is using Europe as a stick with which he can try to beat Corbyn. But I think we are owed serious leadership on this issue, not just the gaffe-prone version offered by Smith. Just as the country has to embrace the reality of Brexit Britain, we in the Labour party must accept reality and fight as hard as we can to ensure that our values have a place in this sad, but inevitable exit from the European Union.