Although Londoners voted to Remain in the European Union by a considerable margin, all of us respected the national result and its consequence – that Brexit would have to happen. But accepting and respecting the result of the referendum does not entail accepting or respecting the chaos into which our country and our city have been plunged by the government’s chaotic negotiations, both with Europe and with themselves.
It wasn’t unreasonable to believe the government would preside over an orderly withdrawal. As Londoners, we expected a Brexit that minimised the potential for economic and social disruption, maintained good relations and co-operation with our European partners and prioritised the security of our food, our people and our medical supplies. How wrong we were.
Since the London Assembly’s EU Exit Working Group, which I chair, was set up two years ago, it has focused on issues of critical importance to Londoners. These have included the experience of EU27 citizens in our society, the role that crucial EU funding plays in London’s economy, the migration that supports our businesses and perhaps above all, the catastrophic impact that a “no deal” Brexit would have on Londoners and our livelihoods.
Let’s be clear – crashing out of the EU without a deal would be a disaster. This isn’t “Project Fear”, it’s a dangerous reality, and anyone who says otherwise simply isn’t being straight with us. Take transport, where the preparations for haulage permits required for a no deal scenario remain wildly inadequate for our needs. Or take health: at a time like this, we need openness and information sharing like never before, so it’s incredibly concerning that even London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has met resistance to his efforts to access important and accurate information from Whitehall.
The Greater London Authority has a statutory responsibility for our capital’s resilience and emergency planning, so it’s right that the government has asked the Mayor to take steps to ensure that we’re prepared for various scenarios. I know that through his work with London’s businesses, health authorities, citizens and European partners, the Mayor has been taking all the steps within his power to ensure that we are. The EU Londoners Hub in particular is a fantastic initiative that will signpost thousands of our fellow citizens to the resources they need, while also sending out the message that London is open. But how can we be truly prepared when co-operation from central government is so poor?
Medical supplies are yet another area of concern, as the Mayor clearly underlined when he highlighted the one-year lead time required to build up refrigeration capacity for even a six-week stockpile. So my message to our parliamentarians is that whatever turmoil and chaos is gripping the government, all those with the power to do so must ensure no deal is not an option. Londoners expect nothing less.
So, what next? While it’s right to highlight the enormous damage that would certainly be caused by a no deal Brexit, every Brexit outcome entails some risk. This includes my preferred option, which – in the event that other parliamentary options for avoiding a hard Brexit fail – is to give the public a final say on the terms of the deal, with an option to remain. As this mess – a debacle entirely of the government’s own making – has dragged on, it has become clear that such a vote might be our best solution to the current impasse. But people supporting this option must also recognise the powerful economic and social factors that led so many people, including one and a half million Londoners, to vote Leave.
We still don’t know, even at this late juncture, what the outcome of the Brexit process will be. But the real betrayal – of Leave and Remain voters alike – would be a Brexit which entrenched division and inequality. It was these factors more than any other which drove Brexit. We cannot allow them, or those responsible for them, to continue to drive a wedge through our society.
Len Duvall is London Assembly Member for Greenwich & Lewisham and leader of the Assembly’s Labour Group.