Labour is squandering an opportunity by failing to call out Brexiteers’ lies

The country is in desperate need of a strong opposition


When David Cameron declared, during the EU referendum that Brexit risked peace across Europe, he was roundly derided by his critics.

Just hours after the now former PM’s speech, Boris Johnson popped up to declare that such talk around Brexit starting World War Three was ‘totally demented’.

Almost a year later, and one of the arch Brexiteers, the former Conservative Leader, Lord Howard has invoked the memory of the Falklands War to explain his belief that Theresa May will do everything she has to protect Gibraltar during the Brexit negotiations.

It is, sadly, the latest in a long line of falsehoods uttered by the Leave campaign.

The Vote Leave battle bus claims around £350 million extra a week for the NHS have been trounced on more than one occasion, while last week Brexit Secretary, David Davis warned that immigration might not necessarily fall once the UK leaves the EU.

Those in and around Vote Leave might well argue that their campaign was about taking back control of immigration, not necessarily cutting it, but let’s recall Michael Gove’s exchange with ITV’s Robert Peston just weeks before the referendum:

Robert Peston: You would reduce immigration from outside the EU and inside the EU to tens of thousands.

Michael Gove: Yes.

Then there were all the claims by Vote Leave that voting to end our membership of the EU would not lead to the break-up of the UK. How does that one square with Scotland’s First Minister now formally asking Downing Street for the powers needed to hold a second independence referendum. Or indeed the outcome of the recent elections to Stormont which, for the first time, saw the unionists lose their majority.

And what of Davis’s assurance to in the Commons in January that the UK Government would secure a free trade deal with the EU that delivers ‘the exact same benefits’ as our current membership of the single market? How does that one fit with the insistence of leaders across Europe that the UK cannot and will not be better off outside the EU?

Remember also those claims about Turkey joining the EU imminently?  In November, the European Parliament voted to halt accession talks between the two, a stance how supported by Austria.

Project Reality

The list could continue, but the fact that remains that on so many fundamental points Vote Leave’s assertions have been proven to be false. It’s not project fear, but project reality now and it’s Theresa May, now Brexiteer in chief, who must be held to account for what was promised by Vote Leave.

The political landscape should therefore be fertile for Labour to hold the Government’s feet to the fire, yet it is now missing in action.

The irony though is that, as explained so clearly in Tim Shipman’s book on the Brexit campaign, having put in a half-hearted effort (at best) to keep the UK in the EU, those around Jeremy Corbyn are now fearful that the right-wingers in the Conservative Party will now seek to water down worker rights.

Perhaps more effort by the Labour leader’s office could have prevented such fears from arising?

Brexit is one of the most pivotal moments in the country’s history, the results of which are, if we are honest, still unknown. At such a moment the government needs a strong opposition, holding it to account, garnering support and ensuring that ministers do not feel their number one priority it to placate the hard Brexiteers in the Conservative party.

What we don’t need is an opposition which, according to John Curtice of Strathclyde University, faces being weakened still further with a potential 12 point swing in support at the local elections in May, from Labour to the Conservatives.

Labour’s dire position in the poll clearly goes deeper than just one person, but Jeremy Corbyn is, plain and simple, a drag on the party. While he remains in office there is no way that he can revive the fortunes of the party among those that matter, the voters.

It goes further also than simply the political calculations of one party. The Government needs strong opposition; the voters need and deserve a strong and realistic alternative Government; and the country needs a clear, optimistic and progressive vision for post Brexit Britain that the country can get behind and, dare I say it, perhaps get excited about.

Sadly, we have none of these coming from Labour’s frontbench and, in their heart of hearts, many around Jeremy Corbyn know it. It’s time to have the courage to say so.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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