Michael Connarty: Obsessives on either side of Brexit have long ignored the realities of the EU

Writing for The Red Robin, former Labour MP Michael Connarty says that "obsessive" MPs on either side of the Brexit debate have long ignored the realities of the EU.

Serving as the member for Linlithgow and Falkirk East from 1992 until 2015, Connarty also spent nearly two decades on Westminster's European Scrutiny committee.

17 years as a member of the European Scrutiny committee of the UK Parliament (1998-2015) and Chairman 2006-2010 taught me the virtue of patience when trying to influence the drawn out, secret process of negotiations behind policy making in the EU.  A few obsessive MPs on the anti-EU side and the slavishly pro-EU side played to the gallery, or their electorate, with all or nothing speeches. They usually ignored the hard graft that often led to less damaging and most often positive negotiated compromises for the UK.

The all or nothing approach sums up the performances of many MPs since the 2016 EU Referendum delivered a Leave decision.  I campaigned vigorously to Remain and would do so again if the mirage of ‘A People’s Vote’ with a Remain option hardened into a reality.

I have no doubt that remaining with the present UK relationship in the EU is the best of all options for the UK and Scottish economy.   Since Gordon Brown rescued the UK from the Eurozone, and from the EU’s ability to enforce massive cuts in public expenditure through the Stability & Growth pact rules, the UK and Scottish Governments remain in control of public spending unlike most other EU member states.  It is not the EU that is enforcing austerity and cuts in Scotland, it is the UK and Scottish Governments.   With a different Government with a growth agenda, austerity could end without interference from the EU.

Unfortunately, a close scrutiny of the recurring arithmetic in the UK Parliament makes it unlikely that a combination of interests will deliver a majority of MPs for a ‘ People’s Vote’ motion.  Despite all the allegations of false promises, and the proven illegalities in Electoral Law during the Referendum campaign, both main UK parties stood on 2017 manifesto pledges to ‘honour the result of the UK referendum’.  The Labour Party Conference in September 2018 unanimously agreed a realistic negotiating strategy that contained an option to minimise the damage to the economy and the future livelihood of the people in all parts of the UK.  It was also an option that safeguarded the Good Friday agreement and the future peace in all of Ireland.

That proposal is an alternative ‘soft Brexit’ with a permanent Customs Union agreement with the EU and the UK aligned or in the EU Single Market.  All kinds of variants have been touted for the detail and labels that could be attached to such an agreement, but the key attraction is that it will restore stability and security to the business and jobs environment.  The underpinning structure of the EU is secured on a Single or Common Market and Customs Union and this is reflected in the warm response to Labour’s approach at the heart of the EU. 

The question now is: “Can Labour’s alternative deal win a majority in the UK Parliament?”. Reports predict that the present UK Government’s deal will be defeated by a large margin.  I have heard no hard figures from my colleagues Kezia Dugdale or Ian Murray that can deliver enough ‘Peoples’ Vote’ supporters, even if Labour whip in support.  Do they really think four choices to reflect the options before Parliament could be put to voters without an even bigger debacle than the 2016?  It is likely that no option would gain a credible majority.  Or do they really mean a rerun of the last 2 choice vote?  If anyone knows, they are not telling the public. 

The SNP ‘All or Nothing - Remain only’ position leaves them open to the accusation that they would rather have the UK crash out of the EU than support a choice that might safeguard the businesses, jobs and livelihoods of the people of Scotland.  I accept but oppose the SNP goal of Scottish Independence but hope they will accept that MPs are not elected to make their electors and their families poorer.  I would hope SNP MPs would be prepared to vote for Labour’s proposed deal to safeguard the Scottish Economy, just as Labour are also prepared to put a whip on to vote for ‘A People’s Vote’ motion.

It is likely that the next week will see the most important votes on the future relationship of the UK and its nearest neighbours in the EU.  It is time for all Scottish MPs to put aside their personal prejudices and vote for the best possible future for their constituents and their families.  The people and history will judge how well they carry out their duty.

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