Ann Coffey


Brexit response

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January 2019

As the crisis surrounding the Brexit negotiations has deepened, so the flow of concerned emails I have received has soared.

The people of Stockport voted to remain in the EU by 53.2 per cent to 46.8 per cent in the 2016 referendum.

In the last few weeks I have received more than 600 emails from constituents. It will come as no surprise to you that people have expressed many different views about Brexit and the way forward.

I also conducted a postal survey in those areas where a high number of people voted to leave in 2016.

I polled 4,500 households and what is striking is that of those who responded 71 per cent now feel ‘the people’ should have the final say on the Brexit deal and 72 per cent said that remaining in the EU should be an option in another referendum.

There has been a definite sign of a change of heart amongst people who voted Leave who now say they would like the opportunity to vote again. Of those who replied to say they voted Leave in 2016, 13 per cent said they would now vote Remain with many saying they felt misled or misinformed in the EU referendum.

My survey tallies with the Best of Britain survey released earlier this month which showed that 70 per cent of Stockport people want a final say and that there has been a 10.10 per cent shift to remain since June 2016.

The young in Stockport are much more pro Europe than older people with 83 per cent of 25-49 year olds saying there should be another vote and an option to remain in the European Union against 50 per cent for those aged 64 plus.

Also of those who voted Leave, those in the 25 to 49 age bracket are the most likely to have changed their minds.

In the referendum two years ago I voted to remain because I felt being in the European Union would safeguard jobs and ensure continued peace in Europe.

I voted against the proposed timetable of triggering the Article 50 leaving process in March 2017 because I thought it was madness to set a date before we knew how long the negotiations would take with the EU.  I felt it opened us up to an increased risk of a more damaging form of Brexit, which is now indeed the case.

Many people see the relationship in terms of Europe’s economic value to us; others as a way of putting to rest forever the terrible wars that divided Europe for centuries; for others it is a bulwark against oppressive regimes and a protection of citizens’ rights.

In the 1975 referendum the British people, including me, voted to stay in Europe with 67.2 per voting “Yes”. I voted to stay in partly for economic reasons. The economy was in a bad state with soaring inflation. But my overriding reason was that as a young person I saw belonging in Europe as a break from the past and the possibility of a better future.

As a child I was brought up under the shadow of the war because of my parent’s traumatic experiences. Peace in Europe was an overwhelming prize.

The 1975 referendum split the country and the then Labour cabinet. Almost immediately after the vote, anti-marketers began their campaign to overturn the result.

The issue of sovereignty and what it means to be British, which was so important in 1975, has continued to run as a strong thread in the replies to both my 2016 survey, conducted shortly after the referendum, and my latest 2018 survey.

The latest survey contained many opposing views: “As a sovereign nation, I want the UK to remain in a community and work together to share information and provide mutual support.” Or conversely, “We want our country back, our sovereignty our laws.”

In the long term, the only solution to the issue of identity is going to be time. I believe the younger generation will in time have a more settled view of what their relationship with Europe should be and it is only when that happens that this issue will be resolved.

The younger generation do not have their views shaped by national boundaries but are influenced by the ‘barrier less’ world wide web.

But we are where we are now and we need solutions. We are now in a position where the Brexit deal the Prime Minister has negotiated will not be voted on until January 17. We are due to leave the EU on March 29 at 11 pm. Time is running out.

Without major changes from the EU, it is likely that the Prime Minister’s deal will continue to be opposed by MPs. However, I cannot see any majority support for any other option such as a Norway or Canada style deal.

But we have to make a decision. My view is that we should have another public vote.

This time people would be voting on proper detailed options for the way forward with the full knowledge of what is actually on the table – the Prime Minister’s compromise deal, another deal, no deal or remaining in the EU.

It is difficult to see now exactly what MPs will be asked to vote on. If we do not get support for a People’s Vote then I will support the option that is the least damaging to the economic and social fabric of the nation.