Labour must remain ready to expose the Leave campaign's dishonesty
This is the full text of the speech by Glenis Willmott, Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, at Labour Conference today.
Good morning, Conference.
Obviously, this isn’t the speech I wanted to make to you all today and believe me this is one of the most difficult conference speeches I have ever had to make.
Some of you may remember that a year ago I warned this Conference about what a post-Brexit Britain could look like after a leave vote in the referendum.
I described a Britain left perilous and at the mercy of free-marketeers, looking to dismantle our social and working rights all in the name of cutting red-tape and bureaucracy.
And I described a model of Britain as a free trade, low tax, poorly regulated country
where the rich are encouraged to be greedy and the poor should just be grateful.
Well sadly, that nightmare scenario is coming true and we must all now come to terms with the referendum result and wake up to the perils facing us.
But Conference, before I talk about our response, I want to start by thanking all those Labour activists up and down the country who campaigned hard for Britain to remain in the European Union.
I also want to thank Party staff nationally and around the regions who worked tirelessly during the campaign.
I want to thank the vast majority of our colleagues in the trade unions who supported us unreservedly in our efforts to ensure a remain vote.
Finally, I want to use this moment to pay tribute to the work of my colleagues Labour’s MEPs.
They have achieved many great things over the years and I have seen first-hand how they have committed their lives to bring better rights, better jobs and better opportunities for British people.
And while the clock may now be ticking on Britain’s involvement in the European Parliament, what is certain is that the efforts and energy of Labour MEPs in Brussels over the years should be acknowledged and greatly appreciated.
And in a way this fits with what I want to talk about this morning, the effort, energy and commitment shown during the referendum campaign should not be in vain.
We cannot and should not just accept that because we lost the referendum our voices must be silent.
We believe Britain should be a progressive partner in Europe working with others to build a better country, a better continent and a better world.
So now more than ever it is important that we unleash our passion, find our spirit and work together to represent not just the 48 per cent who voted to remain, but all those people whose future is reliant on living and working in an outward looking country with a progressive approach to finding its place and role in a globalised world.
And we must start by holding all those leave campaigners to account.
Everything they said and everything they promised during the referendum campaign cannot and should not be forgotten.
We must continue to hold them to their word, continue to point out the outright lies that were told – not because we want to reverse the result of the referendum but because if we allow this type of populist, divisive, jingoistic politics to remain unopposed then our vision for a fair, progressive kinder society will continue to be a long way from reality.
Now I know in some cases this may be difficult as once the results came in most of the leavers went into hiding.
For all their desire to “take back control”, when the opportunity came for them to actually take control they lost their nerve, lost their bottle and they lost their memories.
Do you remember those promises? 350 million a week to the NHS; more investment in public services and British industry; the end of freedom of movement but with continued access to Europe’s markets – markets that are vital for British jobs. No wonder they vanished faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100 meters.
Nigel Farage grew a moustache, possibly in a vain attempt to disguise himself. Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom were in and out like the hokey cokey, while Boris Johnson is continuing with his Walter Mitty-like life by travelling the world pretending to be a diplomat. But we can’t let them get away with it.
They may have retreated to the comfort of a Donald Trump rally or may now disown every claim they ever made but beware: they are still around, they haven’t gone away.
And these people have no shame.
Conference, believe me, as soon as the difficult job is done they will crawl back out of the woodwork and try to tap into the inevitable disappointment of the Brexit reality, no doubt blaming the ‘establishment’ for ‘ignoring’ the referendum result, knowing full well their lies and promises were always unachievable.
So we must remain ready at every turn, remember what they told us, and expose what they said.
Conference, the job at hand is both immense and intimidating and as a movement we will have to fight as hard as we have ever fought to stop a neo-liberal vision for Britain that would leave our country even more divided than today. So we shouldn’t be shy about it, we shouldn’t be scared.
If the Tory Brexit deal with the EU is not right, we must fight it. We shouldn’t accept a deal that doesn’t guarantee our social and working rights or environmental protections. We shouldn’t accept a deal that will hit jobs, lower standards and wages and we shouldn’t accept a deal that opens up our public services and the NHS to profit over people.
Many in this room were deeply concerned about the implications of the TTIP trade deal. You may think that after the EU vote, for us in Britain, TTIP is as good as dead but now the Frankenstein monster that is the new Department for International Trade is beginning to rise, as the doctor himself, Liam Fox, is given free rein to revive a Thatcher-style Britain by traveling the world offering up our resources to the highest bidder. And I fear whatever Fox comes back with will make our fight on TTIP feel like a walk in the park.
Conference, what has happened has happened and the future of our country remains uncertain. But no matter how bruised we feel, no matter how disconsolate we are, or how fearful we may be. The next steps this country takes could be catastrophic for many people.
Now, I don’t know about you but I didn’t spend my life fighting for a better Britain just to give up now, and I don’t know what happens next. But I do know this: if we can’t get our act together, if we can’t find our feet, if we can’t find our passion, then our nightmares will soon be a reality.
Now, more than ever, Britain needs Labour. Labour, let’s not let Britain down.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.