Just before Christmas, I was in Longsight with Manchester for Europe, talking to people about how Brexit was going.
The Leave campaign broke electoral law during the Referendum. There is no democratic mandate for Brexit, and particularly not for the hard Brexit that Theresa May’s deal entails – let alone the disaster that a No-Deal Brexit crash-out would entail. This is not the will of the people. It is the will of Theresa May trying to save her own skin from the far-right of the Tory party.
I believe that Parliament should act in the best interests of the country, rescind the invocation of Article 50, and work on healing the divide in the country without self-imposed misery on top. But it seems that the most plausible way out of this mess is a Peoples’ Vote, a choice between either the Prime Minister’s Deal or Remaining in the European Union – a clearer choice with more facts on the table, now we know the “Brexit Dividend” of £350 million per week for the NHS was nonsense, now we know that Nigel Farage “never promised Brexit would be a huge success”.
However, I don’t believe that a Peoples’ Vote will necessarily go the way I want it to. Very little has been done to close the loopholes exploited by Leave campaigners during the last referendum, and the Internet is still full of fake news. The Labour Party, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, have been particularly disappointing – they know full well that any form of Brexit would be devastating, but are still trying to sit on the fence. Some Labour supporters seem to want the chaos of Brexit to deliver a Labour Government, without realising it will be unable to deliver its programme from the post-Brexit economic and political wasteland.
Most importantly, the Brexit vote came from somewhere – it came from peoples’ dissatisfaction with the way things are. As a Liberal Democrat, I share a lot of that dissatisfaction. People do worry about the NHS, about affordable housing, about jobs and communities. People worry about not having a say in their lives.
The Leave campaign was wrong to blame the EU, and immigration more widely, for these problems. They are fixable – and the Liberal Democrats have the solutions. We have plans to increase funding for the NHS, and build more social housing. And these plans start with keeping us in the EU where we retain our economic and political power on the world stage as part of a huge trading bloc, giving the country more resources.
Under Labour and Conservative Governments alike we’ve seen too much of the wealth and power go to people at the top. In Coalition we managed to start closing tax loopholes by raising capital gains tax, cut income tax for low earners, and put more funding into schools. We passed a Localism Act which gave councils more powers to build housing. And without the Conservatives or Labour holding us back, we’d be able to go much further.
But most important is peoples’ sense of powerlessness. In Manchester’s one-party state, it is particularly acute. The Liberal Democrats, above all things, believe in power coming from the people – whether it’s more money in low earners’ pockets, or electoral reform so you can vote for who you want to win and have that mean something.
If we achieve a Peoples’ Vote on the path back from the cliff-edge of Brexit, we need to go further than just pointing out the lies and illegal cheating of the Leave campaign. We need to convince people that we can fix the problems they see around them – and I believe the Liberal Democrats have the best ideas to do this.