Brexit vote’s importance summed up by epic Tony Benn speech: ‘Main safeguard for future!’

On June 23, 2016, Britons voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum. Both major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, promised to get behind the vote and respect the will of the people. However, more than three years later, it is still unclear when, how and if the country will leave the bloc as on Monday, the EU announced its informal approval of a new Brexit extension: a full three months, running until January 31.

The delay was requested by Boris Johnson after MPs passed a law which forced him to avert no deal at the end of October, and rejected his three-day-timeline to push the new withdrawal agreement through Parliament.

Hoping to end the three-year deadlock, Britons will now go to the polls on December 12, but since the Labour Party’s Brexit policy now sees a second referendum, with the option of remaining, Britain might end up staying in Brussels.

According to a recent poll, 54 percent of people want to respect the Brexit referendum result and leave the EU, with 32 percent preferring to Remain.

The question posed by polling company Comres was: “Regardless of the way you voted in the 2016 referendum, do you support or oppose the UK abiding by the referendum result and leaving the EU?”

Geographically, the motion was supported in every English region except for London.

As frustration across the country grows and uncertainty relentlessly continues, veteran left-winger Tony Benn made an argument that could explain why people feel so strongly about respecting the referendum.

During a debate with fellow Labour MP Roy Jenkins before the 1975 referendum on EEC membership, Mr Benn said: “For people in this country, who do not have money or power in industry, it is the vote that it’s the main safeguard for the future.”

Launching a scathing attack on the bloc, he added: “Common market membership devalues and downgrades the vote because it prevents people using the ballot box to adopt policies, change policies, change men who adopt policies.

“Because in the future, if people vote yes on Thursday, whatever the outcome of the general elections may be, much real power will rest in the hands of those who will not be affected by our elections.

“Now there are men who give their lives for the right to self government, independence, democracy.

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“There are many men in the world today in prison for those rights.

“And we are being invited to give up those rights for whatever purposes we shall be discussing.

“That makes this the most important point in Brisih political history.”

Despite Mr Benn’s campaign to vote No, on June 5, 1975, British voters approved continued EC/EEC membership by 67 percent to 33 percent.

Labour’s eurosceptics though, did not stop “banging on about Europe” for at least a decade.

The main reason Labour members were uneasy about the EEC – the precursor to the EU – was the belief that the bloc was a “pro-market capitalist club” and undermined the trade unionist principles that formed the very philosophy of the Labour movement in the early 20th century.

In a 2019 talk for Yale University, Vernon Bogdanor, one of Britain’s foremost constitutional experts, explained why Labour suddenly became pro-Europe.

The Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College London said: “Labour in general began to swing towards greater sympathy towards the European issue in the Eighties under the modern leadership of Neil Kinnock, whose period as leader may be regarded as a prelude to the so called new era of Tony Blair in the Nineties.

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“The Labour Party came to believe that the European Community, far from being antagonist to its aims, might actually assist them and this change of view was greatly helped by the President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, who in 1988 spoke to the Trade Union Congress and told them that many of the policies sought by the trade union which were rejected by Margaret Thatcher’s broadly neoliberal Conservative Government could be achieved through the social policies of the European Community.

“Delors was a former socialist minister under the government of Mitterand in France. He said that the trade union would get advances from Europe they could not get from Margaret Thatcher.

“Europe, he said, it had a social dimension as well as an economic and political one and an example of this, it is the policy of providing protection of work, declaring it is impossible to build Europe on deregulation.

“The internal market should be designed to benefit each and every citizen of the community. It is therefore necessary to improve workers’ living and working conditions and provide better protection for their health and safety at work.

“Now, as you can imagine that speech helped to bring Labour supporters around to the idea the European Community was a good thing.”

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