Last night Parliament voted to wrench us out of Europe. As Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn decided to ignore what was raging in Parliament and attend a Momentum rally instead. I say “decided”, as actually he didn’t quite make it there, either. It turned out he wasn’t even welcome among those comrades, who disapproved of his whipping his MPs to support Brexit instead of telling them to join with Liberal Democrats and block Brexit.
Labour backing the Conservatives to force through Brexit was an historic chance missed. Parliament is sometimes dismissed as a talking shop, but this was one of those moments when the future of the country really did hang in the balance over a vote. With Labour’s support, Liberal Democrats could have defeated the Conservative Brexit Government in the Lords, demanding a right to remain for EU nationals and that Parliament be given a say on the final deal.
With Labour holding placards rather than holding ministers to account, Theresa May successfully ordered her MPs and peers to vote for Brexit – even though, by her own admission, she doesn’t yet have a clear idea what our future relationship will be with Europe, including how we will trade with our most important partners.
To be clear, the Liberal Democrats will not give up. We will continue to fight for our membership of the single market and to give the people the final say.
Theresa May is playing recklessly with the future of the United Kingdom, with the SNP using May’s position as an excuse to cleave Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Labour has given up on these people, but the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for them, by fighting for Britain’s membership of the single market, to protect our economy and to keep our country united.
As well as worrying about the very future of the country, people are worried in a very practical way: what happens to their jobs if we leave the single market, what happens to loved ones if the Government does not give guarantees for EU nationals to remain, and what happens to prices due to a falling pound?
Estimates suggest leaving the single market will cost the UK economy up to £200bn over 15 years, while it will leave anything up to a Brexit black hole in the public finances of £100bn.
Our health and social care system is in the grip of a major crisis, with operations being cancelled and people being left on trollies. We are seeing education budgets being slashed, teachers being laid off, schools going to a four day week and essential repairs not being made. If you think the cuts have already been bad, then in the words of Ronald Regan, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” And this is all due to a decision Theresa May didn’t need to take – to go for a hard Brexit.
And all the time the public are facing that Brexit squeeze, with a declining pound pushing up prices. It is a bitter, cold storm coming our way, and it was Theresa May who unleashed it upon us.
So that’s the problem – what can we do about it? Well, by joining the Liberal Democrats as the last party standing against Brexit would help campaigning with us on action days to convince the public that our relationship with Europe is too important to give up. Thousands have joined us, and you should too.
But Parliament still has a role, too. Reports suggest that at least seven bills must still come before it, dealing with everything from immigration to reciprocal rights to healthcare. Little by little, Tory MPs will have to face just how incredibly complex – and difficult – Brexit is, requiring them to give up much that even they must consider beneficial to Britain.
And ultimately, it is the public that can stop this reckless, harsh Brexit. They need to tell their MPs that rather than leaping into the abyss, the Government should pause and think very carefully about whether it is really in the interests of the United Kingdom to leave the world’s largest single market – and risk our very future as an open, tolerant and above all united country.
Last night Labour sat on its hands and let the Conservatives risk the future of our children. For all those who oppose the destructive, hard Brexit this government and official opposition are pursuing, there is now only one party for you – the Liberal Democrats.
Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington