Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Labour: Back a People’s Vote

This party conference should mark the point at which Labour begins a clear shift towards a position on Brexit that is more in line with the wishes of its members and supporters, believes Eddie Marsan

As it is plainly obvious to see, I have not been overly blessed in the looks department. I have always been a character actor rather than a lead, and as such, I have played a wide variety of roles. This demands that I sometimes have to see the world from the perspective of people with whom I may not agree, without demonising them. I have played heroes and villains, from victims of the Holocaust to Heinrich Himmler.

That is why, despite my firmly-held belief that Brexit is a disastrous mistake of historical proportions, I am not interested in disparaging anyone who voted in good faith to leave the European Union. No one has the right to patronise others by suggesting their vote was somehow ‘wrong’. No two people have the same lived experience, everyone sees the world through different eyes.

What we can do, however, is look at the evidence on offer to us now, two years after the 2016 referendum, and decide on that basis whether we still hold the same view as we did then. Because living in a democracy means always having the right to change your mind – as John Maynard Keynes is reported to have said (perhaps apocryphally): ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ Only authoritarians deal in absolutes.

There is clearly a growing feeling within the party that ignoring this basic fact is simply not sustainable for much longer

That is why I support the calls for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, and it is why I want Labour to support it as well. The Labour party has always stood for the values of international, and European, solidarity. The membership and supporter base of the party is overwhelmingly pro-European. Around three-quarters of Labour party supporters, an overwhelming majority, voted to remain in the EU in 2016. And current Labour party supporters are heavily in favour of a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. There is clearly a growing feeling within the party that ignoring this basic fact is simply not sustainable for much longer. And we know that a huge number of voters are open to the idea of voting for a Labour government that takes a clearer position on Brexit, particularly in relation to a People’s Vote. Ambiguity can occasionally be a virtue when it comes to politics, but on the most important issue that has faced this country in generations, Brexit, the Labour party cannot afford to simply stand on the sidelines.

But this should be much more than a simple question of political calculation – it is about the core values that the Labour party represents. We reject isolationism, instead we embrace the common values and the cultural exchanges that we share with our friends and partners in Europe. We are outward-looking, we do not believe in retreating behind walls. But most importantly – the Labour party represents the interests of working people. The clue is in the name. And if there is one thing that has become increasingly clear as the negotiations stumble along, we know that Brexit will hit working people the hardest. Manufacturing, agriculture, services, public services – we know that every single one of these sectors is going to take a beating from the botched Brexit being proposed by the government, and all would be devastated by the consequences of a disastrous no deal Brexit. The Labour party, the party of workers, should not be enabling a policy that would have dire consequences for the very people the party was created to represent.

It could not possibly be clearer – Brexit should not under any circumstances be a project in which the Labour party is seen as complicit

With that in mind, it is no wonder that people in the manufacturing heartlands of the UK, such as the north-east (which voted heavily in favour of leaving the EU), are beginning to turn against this botched Brexit. Trade unions and businesses are united in their view that the hard Brexit path being pursued by the Government will be a disaster for our country. The National Health Service, the Labour party’s crowning achievement, has issued repeated warnings about the impact of Brexit on its ability to provide quality healthcare, free at the point of use. It is no surprise that key NHS unions such as the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Medical Association have all voted in support of a People’s Vote.

It could not possibly be clearer – Brexit should not under any circumstances be a project in which the Labour party is seen as complicit. It runs counter to its most fundamental values and principles. If it gets this wrong, supporters and voters will not forgive the Labour party for a long time. Understandably so.

There is also a whole generation of our young people who see the Labour party as their natural home, but who reject Brexit as completely counter to their values and as a total betrayal of their futures. Just like Labour party supporters, young people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. And as the process of leaving the EU has descended into increasing chaos, that rejection of Brexit by young people has only intensified. There is an understandable, yet regrettable, anger directed at an older generation that is perceived as having enjoyed many of the benefits of being in the EU, but who now seem to be trying to pull the rug out from underneath the young. It is young people who will have to bear the costs of Brexit for the longest – their concerns should always be at the forefront of our minds.

But rays of hope are beginning to shine through. I am encouraged by key figures like shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer making great efforts to leave the door open to Labour backing a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. It is also encouraging to see so many activists within the Labour party encouraging the leadership to shift their position on Brexit. Hopefully this year’s party conference in Liverpool will mark the point at which Labour begins a clear shift towards a position on Brexit and a People’s Vote that is more in line with the wishes of its members and supporters. Our country needs it.

Read next: Here’s how to get Brexit discussed at Labour conference


Eddie Marsan is an actor and a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign. He tweets @eddiemarsan


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Eddie Marsan

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