Diana Johnson: Now we must make Brexit work for Hull – and the UK

Remain supporter Diana Johnson explains why she's voted for Article 50.
Remain supporter Diana Johnson explains why she's voted for Article 50.
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LAST summer, I voted and campaigned for a Remain vote in the European Union referendum.

The eventual result in my Hull North constituency was 62.6 per cent for Brexit – a somewhat more emphatic outcome that the narrow overall 52 per cent Leave vote nationally. I am convinced that this result was the product of local concerns about immigration and the free movement of labour.

In the Commons last Wednesday, I therefore voted to trigger Article 50 and the process for leaving the EU. That we are leaving the EU is clear – the end destination less so.

The way I intended to vote was announced long before the Labour whipping arrangements were made known to MPs.

I have great respect for colleagues who also voted on Article 50 to represent the local outcome of the vote in the constituencies they represent – whether it was Leave or Remain, and whether they represent Islington, Vauxhall, Liverpool or anywhere else.

I also listen with respect and interest to the arguments of those representatives who did not vote in accordance with their constituency referendum result. The decision was a major headache for some.

The key objective now is making Brexit work for the UK and to avoid my Hull constituents being worse off, as far as possible.

There is much to do. As just one example, with my Parliamentary neighbour Alan Johnson MP, I tabled an amendment at Westminster on safeguarding access to the EU Single Market for exports from the offshore wind turbine industry that we worked so hard to attract to Hull. Trade deals with the United States are of little practical use to Hull’s wind turbine industry.

Hull has been hit harder than more affluent parts of the country by the global recession, austerity and Government cuts to public services. Jobs and regeneration are therefore our key priorities and we want a Brexit that does not undermine the progress that we have made through huge local effort.

Like every MP, I have received hundreds of messages asking – or in some cases demanding – that I rubber stamp the Leave result ‘unconditionally’; with others asking me to ignore the referendum outcome – and the more decisive local result in Hull – and vote against Article 50.

Some on both extremes point out, as I often do, that MPs are representatives at Westminster – not mere delegates. They have an unfortunate habit of not following through the logic of this sentiment. Some remind me that the narrow referendum vote was advisory. I find that this argument is used with great selectivity.

One clear trend that I noticed in my mailbox before the Commons vote was that most of those urging me to vote for Article 50 were from my own constituency, while the vast majority of those demanding that I vote against Article 50 came from other parts of the country.

I’ve received plenty of advice. I will now give some back. Remainers should accept the referendum result and get behind the huge undertaking of trying to obtain the most progressive and positive outcome.

This is especially so for the Lib Dems who, soon before their ‘principled’ decision to join the Tories in coalition put out populist leaflets demanding a ‘real referendum’ on EU membership. Having got their wish, leader Tim Farron now wants MPs to ignore the fact that so many of our constituents voted Leave.

Leave voters must accept that in a referendum the political power over a key long-term national decision was taken away from elected MPs alone and given to the electorate. We all voted as individuals on June 23, 2016.

With that power shared, so should be the responsibility for what Brexit brings. Those who voted to leave the EU need to think carefully about whether the promises made by the Leave campaign about immigration, living standards, NHS funding, rights at work and much else will be kept.

Will Brexit Britain see real power transferred not just from Brussels to Westminster, but from Westminster to communities in the North, many of which voted Leave? We will see. As we do, I will continue listening to the views of my constituents in the hope that, in a mature representative democracy such as ours, such complex decisions will rarely – if ever again – be taken through the blunt mechanism of a referendum.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.