The Green Party has made a new pledge on Brexit: we will offer the nation a chance to vote to remain in the EU if they do not like the deal on offer at the end of the negotiation period between the UK and the EU.
This will be particularly welcome news to the large majority in Bristol who, like me, voted to remain in the EU. Overall, 62% chose to stay a member of the EU, but in Bristol West this figure rose to 80% and a whopping 86% in Ashley ward, the second highest figure by ward in the country.
Our decision to leave the EU should not be considered irreversible; the referendum was the start, not the end, of a democratic process, and it is only right that people should have a say on the final deal. This is why the Greens want to offer people what we are calling a ratification referendum: not a re-run of the in/out referendum, but a vote on the ratification process itself.
This will be a chance to vote on what Brexit really means, as opposed to a series of promises that cannot be fulfilled. And if we don’t like what’s on offer, we will have a chance to vote to remain a member of the EU.
We also demand that this referendum would give 16 and 17 year olds the vote, making sure that they have a say over their future instead of having that decision made for them.
The importance of such a referendum has been made clear by the shambolic, deluded, and unrealistic way in which the government is approaching the negotiations. There have been reports of a disastrous meeting between Theresa May and European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, in which Mr Juncker reportedly left Downing Street more sceptical than before about the UK’s approach to negotiations, and declared that Brexit cannot be a success.
But not all the blame for the Brexit shambles rests with the Conservative government. Since the referendum, while it has been the Tories that have been moving us towards the hard Brexit cliff edge, it is Labour that have been ready to push us off.
By voting to trigger Article 50, Labour’s failure to oppose the government on this – the most critical issue for generations – has effectively handed Theresa May a blank cheque and played straight into the hands of the right. And, despite an apparently softer and more considered approach to Brexit which emerged last week, their message is confused and contradictory.
They promise to guarantee existing rights to all EU nationals living in the UK – something that Bristol’s multicultural communities will welcome – but say they will end free movement. They also want to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. It seems the cake-and-eat-it approach to Brexit is not reserved solely for the Tories.
Taking a tough stance on freedom of movement is incompatible with membership of the single market, because both are fundamental ‘freedoms’ of EU membership. The Greens believe that only by remaining in the single market can we guarantee Bristol jobs and the important rights that workers currently enjoy. We will also continue to defend free movement. In particular, we want to ensure that young people continue to enjoy the rights enjoyed by their parents and grandparents – the right to travel, study and work across Europe.
Then there is the environment. Labour say they would prioritise jobs and the economy in negotiations with the EU. These are, of course, vital, which is why we say we should stay in the single market. But such a focus risks side-lining the environment.
With the Tories plotting a bonfire of regulations protecting our air and water quality, safeguarding valuable wildlife habitats, and helping to tackle climate change, we need a new Environmental Protection Act and a new Clean Air Act to ensure environmental protections are maintained and enhanced.
Labour’s call for parliament to be given a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal is welcome, but their reluctance to give British people the same right shows a blatant disregard for democracy.
‘Take back control’ was the strapline which persuaded many to vote to leave in the referendum last year. It’s now time to give back control to the people by offering them a ratification referendum so they can have a real say on our shared future.
Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West and parliamentary candidate for the Green Party in Bristol West.
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