Jeremy Corbyn has the best chance of securing a final vote on Brexit – if he tries

As we come ever closer to a disastrous Brexit, I’m losing patience with the Official Opposition’s lack of backbone. 

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If recent reports are to be believed, it appears that the Labour Party might be about to have a change of heart when it comes to their Brexit policy. In the coming days the party’s leaders are set to gather at a “Brexit away day” to discuss a shift in their position. The results of that discussion could well be profound for this country, and for young people in particular.

It’s down to Jeremy Corbyn and his team to grasp this moment and step up to the challenge of stopping a deeply damaging Brexit. At a bare minimum, this summit should see Labour committing to permanent membership of the single market and customs union, and to give people a final say on the Brexit deal.

Labour’s current position is a fudge. Despite its supporters now backing permanent membership of the single market and customs union by a margin of more than four to one, Labour’s leadership has so far refused to budge on the issue. Similarly, and despite Corbyn’s portrayal as a grassroots champion, his opposition to a final public vote runs counter to the vast majority of his members’ wishes. A survey by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University in London found that 78 percent of the Labour grassroots either agree or strongly agree with having a public vote, but top Labour figures have lined up against giving people a final say.

Until now, Labour’s triangulation on Brexit has, to some extent, been understandable. It didn’t want to risk losing Leave voters. I can also understand why the Labour leadership isn’t inclined to listen to some of the pro-Remain voices on this issue too, given how many of them have actively tried to undermine Corbyn in recent years, and how tainted some of them are by their past commitment to a neoliberal ideology which Labour now rejects.

But as we come ever closer to a disastrous Brexit, I’m losing patience with Labour’s lack of backbone on an issue that requires leadership from the Official Opposition. The battles of the past must be forgotten, because we’re now facing the fight for this country’s future. To put it very simply: for progressives there are simply no upsides to an extreme Brexit. That's why the Green party continues to oppose Brexit, and why a commitment to the single market and customs union should be the bare minimum on offer from Labour.

Labour now needs to have the courage to both make a stand against a Tory Brexit – and to ramp up efforts to make clear that our NHS, housing and jobs markets won’t be saved by pulling up the drawbridge. Labour Leave voters vented their legitimate fury at the political establishment, but the party shouldn’t be afraid to politely but firmly disagree with the target of that anger. In policy terms, it is abundantly clear that the least damaging Brexit for people’s jobs, wages, rights and communities is permanent memberships of both the single market and customs union. We should also be clear that it is a dangerous fantasy to believe that the UK can be out of the customs union and avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Top Labour politicians also need to start making the case for saving freedom of movement, and, in the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s words, reject the idea that “the solution to the problems of the working class is electrified fences and new borders coming up between European  countries”. In the blink of an eye, we could be about to lose the enormous gift of being able to live, learn and work across a continent – thus fracturing one of the greatest progressive wins of the last century. Labour could stop that - but only if it uses its platform to win this argument.

In 2016, Another Europe is Possible asked Corbyn to join a left-wing, anti-austerity, pro-EU platform alongside myself and colleagues from all of the progressive parties. He refused. But if he's serious about doing all he can to protect public services, about being in it for the many not the few, and about a better future for our young people, he should consider doing so now. Such a campaign should clearly come out in favour of a final public vote on the deal, including the option to stay in the EU – a policy which is growing in popularity. A vote is vital because the facts on the ground are changing fast. Moreover, the Leave campaign never specified what Brexit would look like. Asking for a second vote does not commit Labour to campaigning one way or another, but simply says that the people who started the Brexit process should have a final say on it.

Jeremy Corbyn is a principled politician, who has an opportunity to truly shape this country’s destiny before he even makes it to Downing Street. If he was to make a stand now against the intergenerational betrayal of an extreme Brexit, and if he was to support giving people a final say on this process, he will not only be doing right for Britain, but also paving a path that will best serve a future Labour government too.

 

Caroline Lucas is Green MP for Brighton Pavilion.