Exeter Green Party statement on Brexit

28 March 2017

In a week in which the government is to trigger Article 50, and so beginning the official two year countdown to leaving the EU, Exeter Green Party have issued the following statement.

Hard Brexit – we didn’t vote for this

The Conservative government is using the narrow majority for leaving the EU to pursue a ‘hard’ Brexit, proposing to take the UK out of the single market and customs union; threatening to turn us into a tax haven and shredding EU legislation that protects our rights and environment. This is not what people voted for. Polls show that the majority of people want to remain in the single market. Indeed, many Leave campaigners said during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would not be reason to leave the single market.

But if the Tories are moving us towards the hard Brexit cliff edge, it is Labour that seems willing to push us off. The official opposition has shown itself hopelessly divided and its failure to oppose the government on this the most critical of issues has played straight into the hands of the Tory Right.

We are pleased that Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw joined Caroline Lucas and 112 other MPs in opposing the Brexit Bill – the Bill granting the government the right to trigger Article 50, and begin the official two-year process of leaving the EU. This reflects the majority view of Exeter constituents who voted by 55 to 45% to remain in the EU. 

The will of the people?

There was only one question on the ballot paper in last year’s referendum about the UK’s membership of the EU: did people want to remain in the EU or leave it?  That was all.  Our future relationship with the EU and what this might look like, either inside or outside the EU, was not what was voted on.

The simplistic ‘will of the people’ chant from both the Tories and Labour will only serve to cause more division. Remain voters must recognize that by a slim majority (52% to 48%) people said they wanted to leave the EU. But equally, Leave voters should appreciate that 16 and 17-year-olds weren’t allowed to vote; EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU were barred from voting and that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to keep their place inside the EU. For all of us therefore there are valid questions to raise over the legitimacy of the result: most countries seeking to make major constitutional change require a two-thirds majority. It must also be acknowledged that 17 million people didn’t vote at all in the referendum. 

When it comes to our own members and supporters, 80% of Green Party voters chose to remain in the EU; a higher proportion than for any other political Party. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that Green Party supporters want us to remain strongly pro-European and maintain the closest possible links with our EU neighbours and partners. We have a duty to make sure the will of Green Party voters is respected and their voices are heard.

What we will campaign for

The Green Party stands for environmental, social and economic justice, so we reject the extreme Brexit that Theresa May’s government has in mind. Before we can support triggering Article 50, we need some clear Green guarantees. Molly Scott Cato, the Green MEP for the South West, has set these guarantees out clearly. We need assurances on safeguarding our environment; on protecting the rights of EU nationals living in Britain; continued freedom of movement for young people to travel, study and work across Europe and a guarantee that the UK will not engage in a race to the bottom on tax rates (see Molly Scott Cato’s petition on this), workers’ rights or consumer protections. We believe that the best way to safeguard these is by remaining inside the single market. We also believe that there is a strong business case for Exeter to remain in the single market because the city is more reliant on exports to Europe than any other city in the country. 70% of the city’s exports go to the EU so we need to maintain a trading relationship with Europe that protects local businesses and local jobs.

Could we remain in the EU after all?

We don’t yet have any clear idea of what the deal between the UK and EU will look like; this will depend on the negotiations between the UK and 27 other EU governments. In the name of democracy therefore, we need to allow people to have the final say on the deal that is negotiated.

This is why Greens support the idea of a 'ratification referendum' on the final deal agreed between the EU and the UK. If the government is serious about letting people take back control it will let them have the final say. This time, we want 16 and 17 year olds and EU nationals living in the UK as well as UK nationals living in the EU to be able to vote in this referendum.

If people reject what is on offer, the UK should be entitled to remain a member of the EU. Senior EU law experts have concluded that Article 50 can be revoked by Parliament at the end of the two-year process and a court case in which senior Green Party members, including Keith Taylor MP and co-leader Jonathan Bartley are plaintiffs, is currently seeking to establish for certain that this is possible. That gives us two years to build a progressive alliance against the extreme Brexit the Conservatives are leading us towards.