Those who consider that the British people have spoken clearly in favour of Brexit (and many don’t, given that it was an advisory referendum, won by a narrow majority, on the basis of lies and on a questionable franchise) must surely accept that any post-referendum mandate can only be for a Brexit that actually works for Britain, without sinking the economy, and which perhaps bears some resemblance to the promises made by the Leave campaign.
If, instead, it becomes clear that we are heading towards a brutal, costly Brexit, there will be many who will have doubts about the advisability of proceeding.
Of course, some people voted for Brexit at any cost. But others voted for Brexit at no cost, because that’s what they were told was possible (and even that we would gain, with proceeds going to the NHS). If, instead, it turns out to be costly – and the Autumn Statement showed that is already eye-wateringly expensive – then those people are entitled to a chance to reconsider.
I know that some Labour MPs are worried that we might lose some of our traditional supporters to other parties unless we unequivocally support Brexit. But blatantly reversing our position on Europe in such a way is not so simple.
First, let’s remember that nearly two-thirds of Labour supporters voted Remain. Of those who didn’t, some thought that Leave was Labour’s position, encouraged to do so by a (deliberately red) bus promising £350 million a week for the NHS and by the likes of Labour MP Kate Hoey appearing alongside Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
Other Labour supporters voted Leave despite the party’s position, but not all of them would desert Labour on this one issue alone at a general election, and some already regret it.
And the other side of the equation is, how many of the over 60% of our supporters who voted Remain would we lose if we take a firmly pro-Brexit stance? A recent poll showed that this would be the only circumstance in which the Lib-Dems would overtake Labour in a general election!
Yes, we must listen to the concerns of the 30-odd percent of our supporters who voted Leave. Indeed, a lot can be done, even within current rules, to address issues like migration on which the Tories have failed woefully, and Theresa May as Home Secretary in particular.
But, we should not paint ourselves into a corner by rash statements that Brexit is a done deal, that we would accept Brexit no matter the cost, or that we would never allow the British people the right to change their minds.
There is so much that could go wrong with Brexit, where the devil is in the vast detail, and where the government is already losing credibility. If we can see that the Conservatives are likely to take Britain over a cliff edge, we should not rule out anything that may allow us to avert that disaster. It will be increasingly in both the national interest, and in Labour’s electoral interest, to say that Brexit is not a done deal without a chance to reconsider – or at least to insist that the actual terms of the Brexit deal are put to the people, once we can see what it actually entails.