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I campaigned for and voted to remain, but I will respect the result of the referendum and vote in favour of the Bill. However, like many of my colleagues, that does not mean that I am voting to give the Government a free ride to pursue a right-wing hard Brexit. It is our responsibility to show how divisions can be healed. We need to speak not only of process but about what sort of country we want the UK to be and how we can build new relationships with Europe and countries around the world. We must watch and scrutinise. It is not about whether the UK is leaving the EU, but how.
For so many people in my area, the referendum was an emphatic shout of “Enough!” from those who felt left behind by globalisation—people who have had enough of being economically, politically and socially excluded. They feel powerless and excluded, with nobody listening to them on issues such as immigration. The referendum was an opportunity for many of them to take decisive action in the hope of bringing about change. We must now listen to that demand for change and act. The change must begin by ending the characterisation of some leave voters as people who did not know what they were doing. That serves only to deepen the chasm running through the UK today. We need to take time to understand the pain and anger of those people.
What we also must do is hear the legitimate concerns of the 48% of people who voted remain. We should not just brush them off as remoaners who are attempting to frustrate the will of the people. Rhetoric is powerful and can be incredibly divisive. We are one country, and the stark divisions of the referendum must be allowed to heal. That should start with a common narrative from the Government that the Brexit negotiations will strive to get the best deal for everyone, not just for those who voted leave. That is why the amendment process is so crucial—the amendments set out a vision, which we, the Labour party, and many others want to see. The whole process is about looking to the future, not the past, which is why we now have to work to find a way through the process.
After we have left the EU, globalisation will not cease to exist, nor will the refugee crisis, the problems with immigration, the threat of terrorism, the lack of funding for the health service and education, and the pervasive inequality that exists in the UK. Brexit must seek to address those issues in a liberal, open and inclusive way—a way that insists on a plan that supports jobs and the economy, tackles inequality and is based on building a new consensus here in Britain on immigration. It must include the protection of workers’ rights and guarantee legal rights for EU nationals living in Britain. That plan must be progressive and united by our common principles of respect, tolerance and open-mindedness. In that way, hope can overcome despair, and a brighter, fairer future for all will seem possible, even if we are no longer part of the EU.