Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK has put forward the following as reasons Labour should not support the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty when the Tory government puts it before Parliament:
Exercising Article 50 now is reckless because we do not know if it is revocable or not… The government has a duty to find out the consequences of exercising Article 50 before acting.
Labour would need to explain that exercising Article 50 must take place on the basis of a viable and costed alternative plan. It cannot be the case that exercising this option on the basis that nothing will change unless to the advantage of the UK, as the government is implying, is realistic when it is glaringly obvious that the EU will extract a price for our departure. Labour has find out what that price is before it can vote for Artcile 50.
Then Labour has to establish how long this process will take. The EU and all international precedents say that two years is quite unrealistic.
And last … the direct cost of leaving has very obviously to be established. We know there is one and that figures of up to £60 billion have been mentioned. Some candour on what that sum might really be, how it will be paid, and when that might be necessary is required from the government and on that there has been no hint of a suggestion to date.
I have a lot of respect for Mr Murphy, although I don’t always agree with him. He has clearly thought carefully about this, but I don’t agree with him now.
Like it or not, there has been a referendum on membership of the EU. The UK electorate voted and there was a clear majority in favour of leaving. Claims that only a quarter of the population actually voted for that will be ruled invalid, as half of those who didn’t vote did not have a right to, and the other half chose not to, indicating that they didn’t care about the result. That is not my opinion; it is the argument.
As Jeremy Corbyn says, Labour has a duty to respect the will of the people, as exercised in the referendum. So Labour must support the invocation of Article 50.
Mr Murphy’s arguments have validity, if related to Theresa May’s plan for the way the UK leaves the EU.
She has not told us if our departure is reversible; while she has told us the process will take two years, she has not explained her reasoning; she has not told us the cost of our departure; and she certainly hasn’t given us any reassurance that her alternative plan – for a UK outside the EU – even exists, let alone whether it has been costed and is viable!
Should Mr Corbyn vote against Mrs May’s plans? Almost certainly.
Should he vote against invoking Article 50? Probably not – because that would be against the will of the people.
So what’s the answer? If he calls for a delay, until there is a costed plan, Mrs May will accuse him of failing to respect the referendum verdict.
Well, let’s think about what will happen if he supports Article 50, and the Tories don’t have a workable plan. Whose fault will that be?
It will be Theresa May’s fault, not his. He’ll have supported the will of the people, but Mrs May will have failed them – and proved she is incapable of running the UK – by failing to come up with a viable plan within the budget available.
One more stipulation: Any plan Mrs May puts forward will need to ensure that no UK citizen loses out financially because of Brexit. Nobody voted for that.
So it isn’t Mr Corbyn who is at a disadvantage here; it is Mrs May. He can support Article 50 with no qualms at all.
If she wants to retain the confidence of the British people, she’d better stop sitting on her thumbs and get her act together!
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