In normal times and in all good faith, politicians at a general election present a manifesto they believe will improve people’s lives. Politicians of a like mind will largely agree with that manifesto, believing it to be better than the alternative. In government, with all good intentions, the manifesto is implemented – maybe not in its entirety and with compromises being made. That is politics, in normal times.
But these are not normal times. Brexit is different. As an MP who campaigned for Remain during the EU referendum in June 2016, I do not believe I can, in all good faith and with all good intentions, tell my electorate that I have changed my mind. First, my constituents won’t believe me. And second, I did not enter politics to knowingly make my constituents poorer. This presents a moral dilemma for Remain-supporting MPs, especially those whose constituents voted to leave.
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We now know more about what leaving means than we did two years ago. A £40bn divorce bill. The loss of jobs in major industries. No extra money for the NHS. The threat of stockpiled food. Lower growth and therefore less money for our public services. Even the government’s assessments say there will be a negative impact on the British economy under whatever deal the prime minister negotiates with the EU. These facts are even more stark for my constituents since the north-east of England will be the worst-hit region.
I did not enter politics to make people poorer. I was brought up in a coal-mining community the son of a miner. I know what happens when an industry closes. The unemployment. The poverty. The loss of hope and the years it takes to get back on your feet. Grievances that still play out today and need to be resolved. Brexit may be the symptom but it is not the cure.
If you voted to remain because all the information and data pointed to your constituents being worse off and all the data since suggests that this is still the case, it is surely wrong for MPs to engineer a position in which the choice is between a deal and no deal – both of which will offer differing levels of economic distress. To be forced into this position is to be avoided at all costs.
More than 200 Labour MPs signed up to keep Britain in the EU during the referendum campaign. The vast majority are still in parliament and face this dilemma. In many cases their constituents voted to leave. This doesn’t let them off the hook. I do not believe we can vote to accept a deal that we know, however it is dressed up, will make our constituents poorer.