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11 January 2019

David Lammy: “There is no left-wing justification for Brexit”

The Tottenham MP’s contribution to the Brexit debate.

By David Lammy

Mr Speaker, I have faced many challenges in the two decades I have sat in this house. But Sunday 7 August 2011, the morning after the Tottenham riots, was by far the greatest.

Walking on broken glass, past burnt-out cars, homes and businesses, comforting men and women still in their pyjamas, I saw the place I had lived my whole life turned to ashes.

Many members of the community were urging me to say that the killing of Mark Duggan by police, which had sparked the riots, justified this rage. That the families made homeless, the burnt out buses and houses, and the looted shops were worth it.

They told me that I had to say this wrong was right.

Mr Speaker, it was not easy. But I had to look my community in the face, and tell them this violence was a disgrace and condemn it unequivocally. 

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Why? Because we have a duty to tell our constituents the truth. Even when they passionately disagree. We owe to them not only our “industry” but also our “judgement.” We are trusted representatives, not unthinking delegates.

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So why do many in this House continue to support Brexit, when they know it will wreck jobs, the NHS and our standing in the world?

This is the fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the Brexit debate.

Most MPs now recognise it in private, but do not say it in public. Brexit is a con. A trick. A swindle. A fraud. A deception that will hurt most those people it promised to help. A dangerous fantasy which will make every problem it claims to solve worse. 

A campaign won on false promises and lies.

Vote Leave and Leave.EU both broke the law. Russian interference is beyond reasonable doubt. And by now every single campaign promise made in 2016 has come unstuck.

Brexit will not enrich our NHS – it will impoverish it.

A trade deal with Donald Trump will see US corporations privatise and dismantle the NHS one bed at a time.

And even those promises on immigration – which has so greatly enriched our country – are a lie. After Brexit immigration will go up, not down.

When we enter negotiations with countries like India and China, they will ask for three things. Visas. Visas. And more visas. And they will get them because we will be weak.

Then there’s the myth about restoring parliamentary sovereignty. The last two years have shown what a joke that is.

The Prime Minister has hoarded power like a deluded 21st century Henry the Eighth. Impact assessments have been hidden. Votes resisted and blocked. Simple opponents of a government policy bullied and threatened to get into line. 

Even when we forced this meaningful vote, the Prime Minister cancelled it, certain we would reject her disastrous deal. 

And, oh, we will reject it.

Because this is a Lose-Lose compromise, which offers no certainty for our future.

All it guarantees is more years of negotiation – headed by the same clowns who guided us into this farce in the first place.

Mr Speaker, we are suffering from a crisis of leadership in our hour of need.

This country’s greatest moments came when we showed courage, not when we appeased. The courage of Wilberforce to emancipate the slaves, against the anger of the British ruling class. The courage of Winston Churchill to declare war on Hitler, against the appeasers in his cabinet and the country. The courage of Atlee and Bevan to nationalise the health service – against the doctors who protested it was not right.

Today we must be bold, because the challenges we face are just as extreme. We must not be afraid to tell the truth to those who do not agree.

Friends on this side of the house tell me to appease Labour voters in industrial towns. The former miners, the factory workers, those who feel they have been left behind.

I say we must not patronise them with cowardice. Let’s tell them the truth. 

“You were sold a lie. Parts of the media used your fears to sell papers and boost viewing figures.” 

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson exploited the same prejudice to win votes. Shame on them.

Immigrants have not taken your jobs. Our schools and colleges failed to give you skills. Hospitals are not crumbling because of health tourists, but because a decade of austerity ground them down to the bone.

You cannot afford a house because both parties failed to build – not because Mohammed down the road who moved in.

And wealth was hoarded in London – when it should have been shared across the country.

Blame us, blame Westminster. Do not blame Brussels for our own country’s mistakes. And do not be angry at us for telling you the truth.

Be angry at the chancers who sold you a lie. As Martin Luther King said long ago. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

So just as I speak plainly to the government this time around, let me also speak to the opposition about some home truths. There is no left-wing justification for Brexit. Ditching workers’ rights, social protections, and ending environmental cooperation is not progressive.

This is a project about neoliberal deregulation. It is Thatcherism on steroids, pushed by her modern day disciples. Leaving the EU will not free us from the injustices of global capitalism: it will make us subordinate to Trump’s US.

Socialism confined to one country will not work.

Whether you like it or not, the world we live in is global. We can only fix the rigged system if we cooperate across border-lines. The party of Keir Hardie has always been International.

We must not let down our young supporters by failing to stand with them on the biggest issue of our lives.

If we remain in the EU, we can reform it from the top table.

Share the load of mass migration, address excesses of the bureaucracy, and fix the inequalities between creditor and debtors. We can recharge the economy. We can re-fuel the NHS. We can build the houses we need, after years of hurt.

Hope is what we need.

Remain in the EU.

Give Britain a second opportunity to decide.