A few people have contacted me today to ask if I’ll return to parliament if it’s recalled. My answer is simple: I haven’t left! The last couple of days I’ve been working away in my Westminster office.
It’s really strange being here when the Commons isn’t sitting. The chamber is the beating heart of Westminster, it provides the energy and dictates the rhythm. It’s hard to describe but right now it palpably feels like something is missing. Which, of course, there is.
Rather than go into detail about what’s happening now I’m desperate to say something about the bigger picture.
After the referendum the idea of another one or even stopping Brexit was inconceivable. Remainers were heartbroken but resigned to the fact it would happen. So on behalf of our community I set about trying to find a Brexit that would cause the least damage to our economy and way of life.
I travelled to Brussels and met the people running different institutions and organisations there. I went to Norway and met their chief negotiator as a non-EU country that is in the Single Market.
Working with others I proposed and voted for a Single Market-based Brexit, then a Customs Union Brexit, and then a Brexit that would have kept us in the Common Market similar to Norway.
So when people accuse me of trying to thwart Brexit from the start or ignoring the referendum they are wrong. What they really mean is that I don’t agree with their view of what Brexit is.
In truth over 500 MPs have voted for a version of Brexit that would have meant leaving the political institutions or more. So again it is simply wrong to say it’s a ‘remain parliament’ that is blocking Brexit.
One of the problems from the start is that everyone has a different view of what Brexit is, especially the Brexiteers. But some people feel so strongly that their view of Brexit is the only possible one and anyone who disagrees must, by definition, be unprincipled or unpatriotic or worse. We’re not, we just disagree and in a democracy that should be fine. But now, dangerously, to some it isn’t.
While people like me were out there working with all sincerity to find a solution, every time we came up with something we were ignored. Theresa May’s government wouldn’t listen and there were only so many times I could work my socks off only for the prime minister to sneer at me in the Commons or throw one of her moronic catchphrases like ‘Brexit means Brexit’ at me before I started despairing. She ignored those who could have worked towards a majority. She set red lines that were simply incompatible with Labour Party values and she delivered a terrible deal as a result.
People say that Labour has a manifesto commitment to honour the referendum. It’s true, but that was if Labour had won the election which we didn’t, and we never committed to deliver ‘any’ Brexit, let alone a terrible Tory one!
Ever since then I’ve seen where this was heading and I’ve tried to stop it. When the need for compromise became obvious, I worked with Phil Wilson MP to come up with a plan whereby we would agree to leave but only if the public confirmed their support of a specific deal.
The anger some people have because I would seek to deliver another referendum and campaign to Remain, to stop Brexit altogether, is unavoidable. I’ve always been aware that some people are furious and I understand it. Believe me, I do. But what I don’t understand are people who feel what I’m doing is ‘undemocratic’ or ‘treacherous’ or the other words I so often see.
Karl Marx said that Britain ‘is the rock upon which the waves of revolution break’. There’s a reason why democracy in Britain has been so resilient over such a long period of time. It’s because our adversarial parliamentary system always gives a legitimate and powerful voice to those who vote in elections but support the losing side. They become the Official Opposition and they challenge and scrutinise those who won – those who form a government and have the right to try and implement their plans. If government fail or if the opposition manage to expose weaknesses, the voters can reassess and make another decision at the next election. Our version of democracy can be tiring and messy, but it has worked spectacularly well for a very long time.
In our system both winners and losers have a legitimate and powerful voice in the way our country works. We disagree, sometimes it’s passionate and heated, but never before have I known a time when opponents believe others simply do not even have a right to express their honest and sincere views. This is an extremely dangerous path to go down and it really worries me.
Brexiteers won the right to deliver Brexit. As an opponent I have the right to scrutinise and oppose it.
By triggering Article 50 (which I voted against) they had the legal right to deliver a leaving deal over a two year period. I gave them that space and offered to work constructively. They rejected ideas and offers and delivered a bad deal. People who support Remain didn’t make them deliver a bad deal, they did it all by themselves and don’t forget Boris Johnson was a cabinet minister in the government that negotiated it!
In any normal situation such a failure would require a general election so the public can choose a new way forward. But the problem is that Brexit is not a general issue, it’s a specific one. That’s why we simply must have another referendum to resolve this.
The EU have given Boris Johnson a month to deliver his plans to them. I want him to do that and I hope he brings back a good deal for our country. He has the right to do that. But after three prime ministers, a deal defeated in the Commons three times, and so many broken promises that I’ve lost count, I simply cannot countenance a deal being passed without the public approval in a confirmatory referendum. Only after this has occurred will I support a general election in which we can set out a comprehensive set of policies from public service reform to welfare and the economy to climate change.
Everyone knows that shutting down parliament was a desperate act of a morally broken prime minister. He said he needs a new parliament and legislation to get new police officers. But this is nonsense – you don’t need a new law to hire police officers for crying out loud, and government is already hiring them, so are they breaking the law now?!
Something is missing in our country – our democracy. I can feel that absence in my soul at the moment because as your MP I cannot walk the hundred yards from my office into the Commons chamber and ask questions of the prime minister, cast votes, or simply give voice to our community in our sovereign parliament. It’s wrong and the longer it continues the more anxious I become.
I hope the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the Scottish Court of Appeal. I will be in Parliament on Tuesday ready at that second to get into the chamber and get stuck in.
I know more than anyone that I’m not perfect, but I hope even those who disagree with me will accept that I’ve worked hard to engage and listen and respond to people I disagree with or who express anger at my views or votes. I do it because that’s how I believe our politics should be done. I hope above all as we move forward more of us can engage respectfully, accepting that a functional democracy only works if we agree that everyone has a right to a view and everyone has the right to change their mind as time passes. It’s your right to judge politicians and governments on their performance and ability to deliver on their promises and express your conclusions freely. That is something we need to rediscover in our public life and national debate and I’m going to do my bit to make it a reality.