In June a referendum took place on the UK’s membership of the European Union. It is very important to note that:
- It was an advisory referendum. The UK can use binding referenda but this was not one.
- 16 and 17 year olds were denied a vote. Despite 16 and 17 year olds voting on Scotland’s membership of the UK, the same teenagers (and more) were denied a say on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU.
- The referendum should, on a matter of such importance, have included a threshold of support required before its ‘advice’ would be acted on by MPs. It did not. The vote ended very closely at 52:48 when previous thresholds have been set at 60%.
Some Leave campaigners claim the referendum requires the immediate triggering of Article 50. I disagree. Southwark voted 72% to remain in the EU thankfully. The national turnout was 72% which means 28% of eligible voters did not participate – about 13 million people. Many more were denied a vote, including 16 and 17 year olds. There are 47 million voters in the UK and 17 million voted to leave the EU (37% of all voters).
MPs’ responsibilities are to all their constituents. If someone comes to me for help with any issue I intervene. If they voted Labour in the last general election then great. If they didn’t, I still act. Many voters never use their right to vote; I still represent them. I am also responsible for representing not just current interest – but the future opportunities for local children too. In parliament it is my job to do what I think is in the best interests of all my constituents – now and in years to come.
MPs are also responsible to their consciences. I made a very simple promise when I fought the Lib Dem Simon Hughes to represent Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Lib Dems like Hughes spent years claiming to be Left of Labour and then left their principles behind for a ride in Cameron and Osborne’s ministerial cars. The policies they supported harmed many local people:
- Thousands now pay the Bedroom Tax, including hundreds of disabled people in Southwark. Iain Duncan Smith only got to impose this pernicious policy with Lib Dem support. Lib Dem Simon Hughes voted for the Bedroom Tax eight times.
- Legal Aid cuts have denied parents and children access to justice. When the Coalition was kicked out of office Lib Dem Simon Hughes was the senior minister for legal aid. When the UK Children’s Commissioner highlighted that Coalition cuts to legal aid were denying children their rights, Hughes promised a review that never even started.
- University students had high hopes when they backed the Lib Dems in 2010. Hughes didn’t even bother to vote when the Coalition hiked tuition fees.
In light of local people’s nasty experience of broken promises from the Lib Dems I made this very simple promise: I will never back something in parliament that I believe will harm local people. It is a promise that should be unnecessary. But it is very relevant to my position on Article 50. I believe voting to trigger Article 50 would harm people in Bermondsey and Old Southwark. I believe the referendum result already has. Since June we have seen:
- An increase in hate crimes. These divide our wonderfully diverse and vibrant community. Crimes include verbal and physical abuse, graffiti and target many people who are actually British. The police record hate crimes and have published statistics on the rise of this issue during and after the referendum. Farage was rejected by the formal Leave campaign. He’s too toxic. But he ran a fundamentally racist campaign and fuelled hate crimes. Even Farage withdrew one poster after it was shown to echo Nazi propaganda. My grandparents fought the kind of people who published materials like his and caused colossal suffering across our continent and beyond. Any British politician echoing our grandparents’ foes should worry us all – especially given the correlation with a rise in division and hate.
- Social division affects our whole community. It is especially worrying for non-UK EU citizens living, studying and working locally. I’ve spoken to schools who have fears about division amongst students – and who have some staff from other EU member states. Hotels and other businesses in our community have highlighted their concerns about retaining current staff. And people from Bermondsey and Old Southwark living in other EU countries are anxious about their own futures whilst working abroad and subject to the ‘bargaining chip’ language of vicious politicians like Liam Fox. Some of our great local universities have also aired their concerns about losing research funding as well as a drop in international students and their higher tuition fees – which could have consequences in higher fees for British students if numbers continue to fall.
- Jobs have also already been lost locally. Companies had contracts drawn up for new premises in Southwark that were to be signed on 24th June contingent on the UK voting to remain in the EU. Those contracts were not signed and jobs not started in SE1. Some firms have also indicated their intention to move into other EU states if the UK does leave the European Union. Our area has the third highest financial sector employment of any UK constituency. I am proud these businesses and employees have found their home in Southwark, many along the river – which has gone from physical shipping trade through dockyards to financial and professional service trade through Thames-side offices. Frankfurt and Paris are vying for those jobs and we could begin to lose them if Article 50 is triggered. If those jobs go then ancillary employment could also be affected, including office cleaners and security as well as in local bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Other local firms have raised concerns about rising costs – from the lower value of the pound to potential new costs of trading with the EU. One independent brewer is fearful for their own staff as even a small change, like printing new and different labels for bottles being exported to the EU, could tip the balance on small profit margins. Much is at risk and cavalier Brexiteers ignore legitimate concerns.
The broader damage to the UK economy is also becoming clearer – as the Autumn Statement revealed. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) suggests that:
- Public finances continue to deteriorate after six years of Tory and Lib Dem Governments, with £122 billion of extra borrowing by 2020/1. The OBR attributes £59 billion of this directly to Brexit – that’s about £188 million per week.
- Leaving the EU may cost the exchequer £16 billion through lower migration by 2020/1.
- Lower productivity due to Brexit is set to cost £18 billion by 2020/1.
- A full decade of low export growth is now predicted due to Brexit.
- Business investment may also fall sharply, with downward revisions of 4.7% this year and 6.3% next year.
Wage growth, average earnings and productivity have all been revised down in the Autumn Statement. The additional economic burden of Brexit is becoming starker. This is on top of the shift in pro-Leave campaigners’ stance on what they were seeking. The ‘extra £350 million for the NHS’ claim has been jettisoned. Too many Brexiteers scoff at the fact they misled voters, admitting their campaign was built on lies, half-truths and misinformation.
In this environment, I stand by my promise: I will not vote for something I am sure will harm local people. Harm has already occurred and much more could follow – with a direct impact on local people’s education, work and travel opportunities, especially for Southwark children.
I am very pleased that our community voted so strongly (72%) to remain in the EU. I stand with them. I hope people who voted to leave in June also understand my position. I will not vote to trigger Article 50 due to the harm I believe it would cause.