‘A final say is crucial’: Labour members across Wales resist Brexit

Labour politicians and activists across the UK are mobilising in support of a second referendum on Brexit. Gathering in Cardiff on Saturday, a group of them set out their vision to remain in the EU.

People’s Vote March that took place in London in October, 2019. More than 700,000 protestors took to the streets demanding a second referendum. (Image: Ed Everett, Flickr)

With less than 1000 hours until Britain’s proposed departure from the EU, blue shirts with yellow printed stars began to trickle through the door of Cathays Community Centre.

It was a drizzly Saturday morning, but that didn’t deter the small but determined crowd from making their way to this corner of Cardiff to hear from local MPs and campaigners.

The gathering, organised by group ‘Labour for a People’s Vote’ attracted individuals of all ages, from Cardiff and beyond.

Their aim? Calling on the Labour leadership to back another Brexit referendum, and to openly discuss the sort of campaign that should run in the event of another vote.

Why another vote?

“I visit lots of business and I’ve not yet met a single one that has told me that leaving the EU would be a good idea,” says Jo Stevens, Labour MP for Cardiff Central.

What reasons do ‘Labour for a People’s Vote’ and the activists who came out to support them in Cardiff put forward for another referendum?

Brexit is utterly opposed to Labour values of internationalism, solidarity, democracy, social and economic justice, free movement, workers’ rights, environmental protections and human rights,’ says Daryl Gordon, LPV’s organiser in Wales.

Asking around the room, people echo these concerns. In Cardiff, support for another say on Brexit has increased over the last two years. In 2016, Jo Stevens’ Cardiff Central constituency voted 68% remain. Now, that figure would be 77%.

“I wasn’t old enough to vote [in 2016] and basically I just can’t believe it’s still happening. The hate that has come out of it is so infuriating,” says Izzy, 19, the youngest face in the crowd.

And she’s not alone. The anger at the current situation is palpable amongst the small but vocal group of people in the hall.

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Echoing this frustration, Labour MP for Cardiff North, Anna McMorrin, says, “After my speech on Thursday in the House of Commons, I got a tirade of abuse on social media, mainly telling me that I’m a traitor and that I could say nothing good about this country.”

“I’m deeply saddened by the state of politics, by this situation that we have got ourselves into. More than that, I am deeply saddened for our children, the next generation coming through.”

McMorrin’s speech on Thursday was on the ‘UK’s Withdrawal from the EU,’ in which she criticised the treatment of Europeans living in the UK and the worries of her constituents in Cardiff North.

The future of business in a post-Brexit Wales was also a hot topic in the room.

Daryl Gordon says, “Many Welsh jobs are reliant on frictionless, tariff free trade with the EU. 44% of Wales’ top 300 largest employers are based in manufacturing and engineering. A further 23% are in wholesale and retail.

It’s not ‘project fear’ to conclude from these numbers that losing access to the single market and the customs union would severely impact Wales’ economy.”

“We’ll campaign passionately and vigorously for remaining in the EU… Reform, yes, absolutely. But for being in the EU. That’s the best deal that we have,” says Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff North.

There are also concerns that businesses are not speaking out loudly enough against Brexit.

Jo Stevens, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, says, “I visit lots of business and I’ve not yet met a single one that has told me that leaving the EU would be a good idea.

“They need to stop being so timid and stop worrying that they’re becoming too party-political. They can say what they want. We need them to be as loud as possible.”

How to push for another vote?

Labour for a People’s Vote: campaigning across Wales and the UK to convince Labour politicians to back another vote on Brexit.

The Labour Party, at their most recent conference in September, supported a motion stating that if a general election were off the table then calling a people’s vote would be a possibility.

Given the current situation in Westminster, and the fact that the Liberal Democrats and SNP have stated they are unlikely to support another vote of no confidence, a general election is highly unlikely.

As a result, campaigners are now calling on Jeremy Corbyn to back a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.

“Write to Jeremy Corbyn. Give examples, tell him your point of view as Labour Party members. That, I promise you, does hit home,” says Anna McMorrin.

Communication with members at all levels of the Labour Party is key in order to push a people’s vote, according McMorrin and MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, Stephen Doughty.

“Just be very direct about what you think. Don’t just send an email – write personal, hand-written letters,” says Doughty.

“Come up to Parliament and lobby. Join the protestors outside and then come into Parliament and ask to see your MP or to speak to Jeremy.”

Responding to critics claiming a second referendum would be undemocratic, he says, “A second vote isn’t anti-democratic, it’s more democracy.”

The vote itself

“What lost us in 2016 was not articulating a passion for Europe”: Campaigners discuss how to learn from last time.

So, how should the pro-European camp run its campaign this time around?

“What lost us in 2016 was not articulating a passion for Europe,” says Sarah, a campaigner from Vale for Europe – a sentiment echoed across the room.

“This goes well beyond party politics and traditional divides, it is about the future of our country,” says Stephen Doughty.

“That will require us to work closely with many from other parties and those who are not party-affiliated to make sure their voices are heard.”

Another important point for campaigners is to stress the need for reform within the EU.

“What I hope, if we go into a second referendum, would be two very clear things,” says Jo Stevens.

“One is that we cannot have party politicians heading the campaign. It’s got to be headed up by people that others will listen to and make an emotional connection with. Secondly, it’s got to be about remaining, but reforming,” she says.

“We’ve got to listen to what people’s concerns are and accommodate them as much as we can into our project for reform of the European Union.”

“Just be very direct about what you think. Don’t just send an email. Write personal, hand-written letters.” That’s the advice Stephen Doughty, MP for Cardiff South & Penarth, gave to individuals at the event on Saturday.

This phrase, ‘remain but reform’, was a prominent message of the meeting.

“We’ll campaign passionately and vigorously for remaining in the EU. For the status quo,” says Anna McMorrin.

“Reform – yes, absolutely. But for being in the EU. That’s the best deal that we have.”