Labour’s next steps in Brexit chaos are crucial | Letters

Jon Bloomfield says the party cannot absent itself from the choice lying before the country, Chris Donnison addresses nationalism and Frank Land debates the shifting will of the people. Plus letters from Carol Hedges, Jean Johnston, Philip Lodge and Martin Lamb

Your editorial (17 November) recognises the significance of last week’s politics: the hardline Brexit fantasy of the Tory nationalists has hit the wall. Despite the framework set out in Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech, the realities of modern economics, geography and security have forced her government to recognise that the UK needs to stay, however grudgingly, within the EU’s orbit.

But there are two better, feasible options that can be pursued in the coming weeks. Either we can follow Norway, a prosperous, egalitarian and democratic country with its own standing on the world stage, by staying outside of EU political structures but within its single market. This is most certainly not a vassal state. Or, we can call for a rerun of the referendum in light of all we have learned over the last two years. This is the riskier option, with an uncertain outcome. Some Labour MPs, like Caroline Flint (Journal, 17 November), would favour the first, while Timothy Garton Ash argues for the second (Journal, 17 November).

What cannot continue is for the Labour party to absent itself from this choice now lying before the country. The Lexiteers in Novara Media may retain their “socialism in one country” fantasies, but the main opposition party has to choose. Saying “all options are on the table” is not a policy: it is an abdication. Labour needs to decide its preference and then rally support behind it from the enormous spectrum of the population looking for some clear political leadership on the issue.
Jon Bloomfield

• Owen Jones’s focus on the sensibilities of the “left behind” (The only way out of May’s Brexit chaos is for Labour to force an election, 16 November) fails to deal with the underlying driver of Brexit – nationalism. Unlike any other major EU country, our press largely bangs a raucous patriotic drum, and our most successful political party is unashamedly chauvinistic. Our politics and culture are infused with a sepia-tainted narrative of beneficent empire and military victory. The unquestioning adoption of this worldview by our political class stands in stark contrast to their historic failure to advocate the benefits of the EU, let alone the notion that being European might be a complementary rather than competing identity.

Whether Conservative or New Labour, they have indulged in Brussels-bashing and the canard that negotiations with the EU were always a zero-sum game. Few images were more abject than a lone and grumpy Gordon Brown belatedly putting his name to the Lisbon treaty in 2007, having deliberately missed the signing ceremony. The reality is that by espousing British exceptionalism over decades, leading remain-supporting politicians laid the groundwork for the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. It is no surprise that they were lamentably ill-equipped to offer reasons to vote remain beyond project fear. They had never ventured a case for Europe, and by June 2016 it was too late to try.
Chris Donnison

• The repeated claim that the 2016 referendum decision represents the will of the people and therefore democracy demands that it should not be challenged is, I suspect, based on a misleading notion of democracy. Our parliamentary system ensures that the will of the people is tested at least every five years. That permits both changes in mind by the electorate and changes in its composition. The referendum in 2016 may well have reflected the will of the people at that time, but can in no way be assumed to reflect that of the very different electorate in place now.

We have rules in place that determine when a further test of the views of the electorate should be made by a general election. We need a similar set of rules for referendums. A new referendum should be triggered when the difference in the composition of the electorate – those who have died or left plus those newly enfranchised – exceeds the difference in numbers voting for each proposition in the previous referendum. The difficulty of defining these democratic ideals points to the weakness of using referendums within a working representative democracy.
Frank Land
Totnes, Devon

• How many more Brexit secretaries until Christmas?
Carol Hedges
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

• Whatever our views on Brexit or politics, the focus on Theresa May has been relentless. Be it personal criticism, political posturing or journalistic comment, it is doubtful if any male prime minister would have been subjected to such an onslaught. Margaret Thatcher was subjected it too, but to a lesser degree. In these days of political correctness and female equality it has been a dark and shameful time. This retrograde conduct is not the UK’s finest hour.
Jean Johnston
Helensburgh, Scotland

• Now is the time for a Guardian supplement that details a plus and minus list for any Brexit deal. No one I know can explain what we will be gaining or losing. I find the mantra of border control, our money and our laws quite incomprehensible, especially in the light of the UN findings on poverty in a so-called “civilised” United Kingdom (Austerity has inflicted misery on people – UN, 17 November). Not united now and highly unlikely ever to be again. But I would appreciate some facts please. No opinions.
Philip Lodge

• John Redwood (This deal is even worse for us than staying in the EU, 16 November) may well believe that the 17.4 million leave voters “fully understood” all the ramifications of Brexit. Well, I voted leave and I didn’t; I wasn’t wearing Redwood’s anorak. It shames me to say that I voted unintelligently because the temptation to poke David Cameron in the eye was too good to pass up. I’ve regretted my vote ever since the result was announced. Am I the only one in this situation?
Martin Lamb

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