By Niamh Rowe, Online Features Editor
I spoke to former Labour Minister of State for Education and later for Transport, Andrew Adonis. A distinguished Remainer and steadfast for another referendum, Adonis is one Labour's MEP candidates running for the South West.
The last European elections were held in 2014, when most of us were not yet eligible to vote. So you may be wondering what an MEP actually is? Our 73 MEPs scrutinise EU legislation in Brussels and unless MPs can agree on a Brexit deal by May 23rd, which is unlikely, the UK will take part in the European elections. Whilst these representatives cannot directly affect the Brexit outcome, the results are reflective of people's attitudes towards Brexit, as many engage in a 'protest vote'. This proxy vote can therefore influence party policy on Brexit; lest we forget Nigel Farage's 2014 victory facilitating David Cameron's referendum.
Currently Farage's newly formed Brexit Party is set for victory with an estimated backing of 62% of Conservative members, placing Farage ahead of Labour. As students we are the ones who will be most affected by Brexit. In the 2014 elections 51% of those 55+ voted, whilst only 28% of 18-24 year olds. It is more vital than ever that we make our democratic voice heard.
I start by asking: Why have you decided to stand for the upcoming elections on May 23rd? 'The Euro elections on 23 May are a virtual referendum on Theresa May, Nigel Farage and Brexit. It is vital that we say NO to Farage’s far right and Tories, led by May, who pander to their agenda of xenophobia and isolationism. This is also our chance to say a clear NO to May’s Brexit and support growing calls for a second referendum with an option to stay in the EU. For all these reasons I am standing for Labour in the crucial battleground of the South-West where at the last Euro election, in 2014, UKIP plus the Tories took 61 per cent of the vote & Labour only 13 per cent. I want to help change that situation radically.'
Adonis had previously stated that 'austerity and Brexit are two sides of the same coin'. I asked him to elaborate on this connection. 'Austerity is a product of the same Thatcherite ideology as Brexit. It was Thatcher who started Brexit as a right wing agenda to dismantle European social and environmental regulation in her Bruges speech of 1988. Farage was one of her earliest and strongest supporters and he now champions this neo-Thatcherism.'
Some may be apprehensive of the inconsistency between Adonis' legacy of dedication to Remain, and The Labour Party's website which states 'Labour respects the result of the referendum, and Britain is leaving the EU'. I asked him why he decided to stand for a party that supports this despite his pro-referendum ethos, and whether his election may just symbolise and reinforce party divisions? 'Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, voted in parliament on April 1st for a referendum on ‘any’ Brexit deal, with an option to stay in the EU. So we are the party for remainers and I am absolutely confident that Labour will deliver.'
'Jeremy Corbyn is leading the huge majority of Labour MPs and Labour members in supporting a referendum on any Brexit deal. He also speaks for the majority of the country who want an end to this Brexit catastrophe.'
Tom Watson recently told The Observer that Labour cannot win the upcoming elections 'by being mealy-mouthed and sounding as if we half agree with him (Farage)'. Watson epoused further that voters need 'clarity on this issue' and Labour could not 'sit on the fence' any longer. It seems that Adonis' clearly defined policy to push for a referendum with several options may be precisely the unified stance Labour needs to win back supporters. Voting for his agenda would also send a clear message to the Labour party about the South West's attitudes on Brexit.
I also addressed concerns regarding the fact that the majority of South West constituencies voted to leave, which would include Labour supporters. In areas such as Torridge this reached 60.8%. The success of The Brexit Party may be attributed to a sense of betrayal towards the ‘Westminster Elite’ for failing to deliver the referendum outcome. As both a key voice for a second referendum and a significant figure in Westminster, I asked whether this could further alienate some Labour voters? 'Both remainers and leavers get to have their say in a referendum. The people cannot betray the people!' For Adonis it appears difficult to label further democracy as an undemocratic route out of this crisis.
Finally, pausing the Brexit battle lines, I mentioned the widespread concern amongst Bristol students regarding the climate emergency we are facing, illustrated by the Bristol philosophy student being arrested last week for glueing himself to a train for Extinction Rebellion. I asked how Labour is planning to face up to this reality? 'We support much bolder action to tackle the climate emergency. As a former Transport Secretary I championed radical plans for the electrification of transport which have been scaled back by the Tories. For example I announced the electrification of the Great Western main line to Bristol Temple Meads and right through to Swansea - which Chris Grayling has scaled back. It is also vital that we resist Brexit in the name of environmental protection.'
Speaking to Adonis suggested that for him Brexit is more than just partisan policy, but is a phenomena with roots in the Thatcher era, has been legitimised through xenophobic attitudes and crucially shall perpetuate austerity and climate change. Whoever you vote for, make sure your voice is heard to let your party know where you stand on Brexit.
Featured Image: Andrew Adonis