It has been some time since my last Brexit update, as talks between Labour and the Government tried to find a way out of the Brexit impasse. Since the EU granted a six month extension to the scheduled exit date, little progress has been made, and the talks have finally collapsed. But this hasn’t stopped the Prime Minister from announcing a fourth vote on the Withdrawal Agreement during the week beginning 03 June, though I can’t see that her deal will be approved by parliament. In the meantime, we remain members of the European Union. As long as that’s the case, and whatever the eventual outcome of the chronically painful and damaging Brexit process, I want to be sure we have British Labour MEPs standing up for our rights in the European parliament.
As Britain will not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May, and we remain members of the EU, we will participate in the European elections on Thursday. In these elections, our votes really matter, and not just because our MEPs will continue to work on vitally important cross-border issues like climate change, protection for refugees fleeing appalling conflict and danger, and tackling terrorism and serious organised crime – subjects that one single country can’t solve on its own. (That’s why I campaigned and voted for us to remain in the 2016 referendum, and in parliament I voted against triggering article 50, voted for every single proposal that could ensure we maintain the closest possible relationship with the EU in the future, including continued membership of the customs union and single market, and voted for a confirmatory vote, so that any deal approved by parliament has to be put back to the people. And in the event that such a vote takes place, I want the alternative of remaining in the EU to appear on the ballot paper, and I will again campaign for us to remain, just as I did in 2016). But these elections also matter because, looking at the opinion polls right now, the Brexit party is doing frighteningly well, and in the elections, it may top the poll. The long-term repercussions of such a result would be disastrous for this country.
First, Nigel Farage and his Tory cronies would take the result as a sign the whole country wants out of the EU, and doesn’t care if we leave with no deal. I’ve always been really clear that would be a terrible Brexit outcome for the UK, and a good result for the Brexit party next week will make it much more likely than before. But Farage would also use such a result as a springboard for his party to fight seats in the next general election, with a real risk that his vile brand of right-wing populism, fed by big money and interfering overseas governments, would occupy a central role in our politics for decades to come. Remember, this is the man who told us he’s the ‘only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive’, and that we should replace our free at the point of need NHS with a system of health insurance. We have to keep him out of our politics, but a vote for any other party than Labour next Thursday makes it so much more likely he’ll succeed – and help the hate-filled and divisive Tommy Robinson too.
That’s because in this election, we vote for a party, not named candidates, and it’s not proportional representation. The counting system favours the high-vote parties. It’s called the DeHondt system and it’s explained by Richard Corbett, Leader of Labour’s MEPs, at https://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/proportional-representation-explainer/ . The system means that it’s unlikely that small-party candidates will be elected, so a vote for them will help the Brexit Party and hinder our great, pro EU Labour candidates. A vote for one of those parties will effectively be a wasted vote, and make the Brexit Party look even more popular than they actually are.
I simply cannot emphasise enough how important I believe it to be that we do all we can to prevent Farage’s right-wing populist agenda from doing well next Thursday. Our country, and especially the poorest and most marginalised, desperately need a Labour government, and a show of strength for Labour now is of vital importance. Whatever your view on Brexit, and what should happen now to the negotiations with the EU, this won’t be influenced by a low Labour vote on 23 May: that’s a matter for MPs in the Westminster parliament. But what will be devastating is if Farage and his ilk get even more MEPs than the current 17 far right anti-EU MEPs representing the UK in the European Parliament. I urge you to vote to stop that happening, and vote for our great Labour candidates on Thursday.