Former Labour MEP SEB DANCE explains why he is supporting Rosena Allin-Khan in the Labour deputy leadership race.
Britain has left the EU. As a former Labour Member of the European Parliament, as a Remainer, and as a proud pro-European, that’s still not an easy thing for me to say – but it’s the reality. There is no longer a campaign to remain. That doesn’t mean that Boris Johnson’s famous lie of “get Brexit done” has suddenly come true.
The ongoing negotiations with the EU will continue to define our country’s future for years to come. Perhaps one day the fight to join the EU will come. How soon that time comes depends on what we do next. Pro-Europeans must now fight for a close relationship between the UK and our friends in the EU and ongoing rights for UK citizens. The Labour Party must play a crucial role in that fight.
That’s why I’m supporting Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan to become the next deputy leader of Labour. Rosena was elected as the MP for Tooting the week before the EU referendum in 2016. Despite holding a shadow frontbench position, she refused to compromise on her principles or on the promises she’d made to her community, so she broke the whip and voted against triggering Article 50. Considering the shambles that followed Theresa May’s early triggering of Article 50, this has been conclusively demonstrated as the right decision.
Rosena was also the first shadow frontbench minister to come out publicly and call for a People’s Vote. This was an incredibly brave thing to do, at a time when Labour MPs and shadow ministers were being pressured not to speak out against the leadership’s position on Brexit. At a time when the leadership of Labour needed a firm push in the right direction, Rosena was the one brave enough to stand up and do it.
There are some voices in the Labour Party, who’ll try to convince you that Brexit was the only reason for Labour’s failure at the last general election – that backing a public vote cost us seats in the so-called ‘Red Wall’.
But this analysis is deeply misleading, and is simply not supported by the facts. Yes, of course Brexit was a divisive issue, for Labour as much as for anyone else.
The reality however, is that the overwhelming majority of Labour voters, members and supporters voted Remain, wanted us to stay in the EU and wanted a public vote on Brexit. That fact is as true of Labour voters in Redcar, Grimsby or Wakefield as it is of Labour voters in Oxford, Islington or Bristol – Labour’s share of the vote went down in 98% of all seats.
Labour’s position on Brexit was fatally undermined not because supporting a public vote was the wrong position for our voters, but because the leadership of the party took so long to get to that position. We sat in the middle of the road on the biggest issue of our time and neither side trusted us. We lost trust among all our communities.
Rosena knows this – she won’t stop standing up for our internationalist values. I joined the Labour Party because I believe in internationalism and solidarity across borders. So does Rosena. That’s why she’s worked across the world in conflict and disaster zones as a humanitarian doctor, and why she still does shifts in her local hospital as an A&E doctor alongside her work as an MP.
So if you are like me – a proud pro-European, an internationalist and a Labour supporter – and if you want someone as deputy leader who’ll stand up for those values, and who’ll fight for our country to maintain the closest possible relationship with the EU, protecting our workers’ rights, our environmental protections, our food standards, our NHS, and most importantly the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – then vote for Doctor Rosena. Together, let’s take Labour forward.
Brexit Might Be Done But The Fight Against Boris Johnson's Destruction Must ContinueAlthough the Labour party is in a difficult place right now, we must make sure it is at the forefront of the fightback.
When the UK leaves the EU this Friday, 31 January 2020, after 47 years of membership, it will be a sombre day for many of us. For others, it will be a day of celebration. For most people, I suspect they will simply hope we can now move on from talking about Brexit at the expense of everything else.
As someone who campaigned with all my heart to stay in the EU, and as the first person on Labour’s front bench to publicly call for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, I am desperately sad to see us leaving our friends and allies in Europe. But we are leaving. The disastrous result of the General Election has settled that. This is no longer an argument about Leave or Remain, it’s about what kind of future we want for our country and for our children.
That’s where the new fight begins. Boris Johnson wants to pretend he’s now “Got Brexit Done”, and we no longer need to worry about the details. He wants us to simply trust him to sort it all out. Well, I don’t trust him. Neither should you. He talks about “Global Britain” whilst turning his back on vulnerable child refugees. He talks about “Taking Back Control” while reducing parliament’s ability to scrutinise his decisions. He talks about attracting “Global Talent” to the UK while creating huge distress and uncertainty for EU citizens, many of whom have been here for years and who have made their lives in this country.
The fight for our internationalist values starts now. It will be long, and it will be difficult, because Boris Johnson has a large majority – but that’s why it’s so important. When it feels like hope is lost, that’s when those of us who believe in progressive values and internationalism need to stand up and fight. If we don’t, no-one else is going to do it for us.
We need to stand up and fight for our hard-won workers’ rights. We need to stand up and fight for our environmental protections. Most importantly, we need to stand up and fight for the rights of EU citizens living in this country. They are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues, our family. I work side-by-side with many of them in the NHS, when I work shifts as a doctor in my local A&E department. Under the draconian new immigration laws being bandied around by this government, my own Polish mother might not have been able to move to this country and make a life for herself.
Although the Labour party is in a difficult place right now, we must make sure it is at the forefront of the fightback. That’s one of the main reasons I am running to become the next Deputy Leader. We have huge organisational strength through our membership, through our links with the trade unions and through our MPs and councillors embedded in their local communities. Now is the time to deploy those strengths to maximum effect, to hold the Government to account and ensure that we fight back against every attempt to undercut our rights and freedoms at work, every attempt to weaken our environmental safeguards, every attempt to inject privatisation into our National Health Service.
The slogan “Get Brexit Done” might have helped win the election for Boris Johnson, but for those of us who stand against his destructive vision for the future of our country, this fight isn’t done. It’s just getting started.
My responses to the questions provided by the Labour Campaign for Free Movement
1. Defend and extend free movement: opposing any reduction in the freedoms of UK and EU citizens to live, work, and access social security in each others’ countries, and any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps or targets.I am the very embodiment of the benefits free movement has brought – my mother is Polish and was able to come to this country and make a life for herself here. Under the draconian new immigration policies being discussed by this Tory government, she might never have been able to do that.
Protecting and extending free movement is at the very heart of my internationalist Labour principles. I believe our country is stronger and better because of free movement. When I work shifts as an A&E doctor in my local hospital, I work with NHS staff from across Europe and it breaks my heart to see many of them feeling unwanted or undervalued because of Brexit.
As Deputy Leader, I pledge to do everything in my power to promote the core Labour values of internationalism and solidarity across borders, because I believe human life has the same value no matter where someone comes from. That means defending and extending free movement, and it means fighting to protect the human rights of migrants from this hostile Tory government.
2. Close every detention centreHolding migrants in detention centres, often in substandard conditions, is incredibly cruel and degrading. These are often vulnerable people, fleeing from a variety of horrific circumstances such as war, trafficking and poverty. They have the right to be treated with dignity, as human beings, as we would want ourselves or our family to be treated in such horrendous circumstances. When working abroad as a humanitarian doctor, I’ve seen first-hand some of the terrible conditions people are forced to endure in detention centres and it horrified me.
We must fight back against the hostile environment the Tories have created for migrants – the Labour Party has always stood for international solidarity and openness to the world – we need a Labour government to bring those principles back into the core of our approach to immigration.
I would want to listen to expert opinion on how to do this in a responsible way, but I certainly would want to close as many detention centres as possible and make sure we have an overall approach to immigration that means a concept as cruel as detention centres are not required in the first place.
3. Unconditional rights to family reunionYes, I fully support this. The unconditional right to family reunion is a fundamental element of treating migrants as human beings with dignity and equal value, rather than the Tory approach of seeing migrants as a problem to be managed. When I’ve worked as a humanitarian doctor in conflict zones across the world, it was always horrendous to see so many families ripped apart or prevented from seeing each other again. When I visited Palestine on a humanitarian mission, I saw sick children alone in hospital because the permit system meant their parents weren’t allowed to visit them. I immediately began working on ways to resolve this.
It’s not enough to just talk about this – we need to be working every day to deliver a Labour government so we can fix these kinds of injustices. That’s what I’d do as Deputy Leader.
4. End “no recourse to public funds” policiesI support ending such policies, yes. This is another case of a Tory government treating migrants not as human beings with human dignity and equal value, but instead as a problem to be managed through cruelty.
I want to deliver a Labour government with internationalism at its core, which would allow us to change our entire approach to migration, and begin seeing human life as equally valuable and equally dignified no matter where that person was born or where they’ve come from.
5. Oppose all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS accessThe Tory Hostile Environment approach to immigration is a stain on the soul of their party, and they should be ashamed of it. Tragedies such as the Windrush scandal are a horrendous demonstration of where this approach leads, and I worry a similar scandal could occur with EU citizens who’ve made their lives in this country. I want a Labour government so we can end the Hostile Environment immediately and start treating migrants with the human dignity and respect they deserve.
6. Equal voting rights for all UK residents
I am certainly interested in all ideas for how to revitalise our democracy and increase the level of engagement with our political process. Indeed, prior to the General Election in 2019, I publicly called for EU citizens to get the right to vote. Our Labour values of openness and internationalism must be at the core of everything we do.
7. Please share your thoughts on these wider issues that our supporters also feel strongly about:Even after Brexit, the UK government looks set to participate in Frontex (the European border agency) and its “Fortress Europe” policies. Will you challenge these policies?
I certainly think the EU has often failed dismally to strike the right balance between border security and solidarity with people fleeing from war, poverty and the effects of global climate change. I am a proud pro-European, but that doesn’t mean my view of the EU is uncritical and I’ve never been afraid to say so. My values of international solidarity and openness don’t stop at the borders of Europe – they extend across the whole world. Human life always has equal value, no matter where that person comes from.
Will you support an amnesty for undocumented migrants resident in the UK?
We should always treat people with compassion and dignity, and we must place those values at the heart of everything we do when it comes to immigration. People in this country without documentation are often asylum seekers fleeing from horrific conditions and I want to see them treated with the human dignity they deserve. I would want to listen in more detail to expert opinion and feedback on the specific question of whether an amnesty is the right approach, but the principles of human dignity and compassion must always guide everything we do.
Anything else you’d like Labour members, supporters and affiliates to know about what your leadership/deputy leadership would mean for migrants and migration policy?
I am the living, breathing proof that free movement is a wonderful benefit to our country. My Polish mother was able to come to this country and make a life for herself here. Working on the frontlines of the NHS as an A&E doctor, I work alongside colleagues from across Europe and the rest of the world, and they are a credit to our country. It makes me proud to be British. But years of Tory government has created a literal Hostile Environment for migrants in this country. The drawbridge is being pulled up, and the rights of a whole generation of people to travel freely and live, love and work across Europe is being taken away. That is a tragedy, but it also means those of us who are proud of our outward-looking, progressive, internationalist values must fight even harder to protect and extend them. The fight starts now, and as your Deputy Leader (or even if I’m not!), I promise I will always be there fighting alongside you for those values with everything I’ve got.