In June, voters decided the country should have a Conservative-led government. I am honoured that more people in Ipswich chose to vote for me than the Conservative, but across the country more people voted in Conservative MPs than voted in Labour ones.
Labour believes in democracy. I am deeply upset that it is the Conservatives who are running our country, cutting back on education and the NHS and the Police, freezing wages, failing to invest in housing and railways and renewable energy. I believe the British voters made a mistake in voting for the Conservatives. If I didn’t believe people were mistaken in voting Conservative, I would have no justification in asking you to vote for a Labour MP instead. But that doesn’t mean that I, or the Labour Party, will refuse to accept the result of the General Election. I will join with Labour colleagues to point out – and if possible overturn – some of the worst aspects of the Conservative’s programme. When, as in most cases, the Conservatives vote their proposals through unamended, that is not a reason for not trying to amend those proposals, but we do not seek illegal or subversive ways to try to undermine them.
I, like most of Labour, campaigned for us to remain in the EU. I will not pretend to think I was wrong. Much of what was said during the Referendum campaign was misleading and, in some cases, deliberate lies. I believe we’d have been better off if we’d stayed in, and that may become more obvious in future. But that does not mean that I want to ignore the democratic will of the British people as expressed through their vote on June 23rd last year. You only have to look at countries like Turkey or Egypt to see what happens when people refuse to accept the result of a vote.
Labour respect the referendum result and will fight for a Brexit deal that protects jobs, the economy and rights. We should start from the position – “What is best for Britain”. If we believe that some aspects of what the Conservatives are trying to do in their European Withdrawal Bill are wrong, then it is our duty to campaign to change them, and to use our votes in the House of Commons to make our position clear. We are not running the country – but we can try to persuade the Conservatives to think again.
Unless the government manages to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement with Europe by Spring 2019, the danger is that our exports to the EU will suddenly have tariffs imposed, or in some cases be ruled out altogether. To avoid such a cliff-edge for our economy, Labour is calling for a transitional deal. We want to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the Single Market during a limited transitional period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both, but Labour recognise that a transitional period can’t last indefinitely. The point is to give us time to prepare a new partnership with the EU – but not as members – which would be in the best interests of businesses, consumers, workers and the environment.
The arguments for Brexit were that it would provide at least as many benefits for our Country as the EU. It is our duty to the British people to insist that those benefits be realised. What matters is to make sure that British people are not thrown out of work, people are protected in their place of work, families are not split up, and our environment is protected from destruction. Remaining within a customs union and a changed Single Market are possible end results, but this must be part of negotiations, and we can’t negotiate properly if we run out of time.
Labour believes in democracy, but it is not at all clear that the current Conservative leadership do. The Government’s Withdrawal Bill takes far too much power into the hands of ministers without any scrutiny from Parliament. MPs will not be able to question decisions, and that means individuals, charities, businesses and organisations of all sorts that might see problems which the government has not foreseen, will not be able to suggest improvements either. It’s not just undemocratic – it makes for bad decisions.
So I will be joining with my colleagues next week to argue for Labour’s reasoned amendment to the Withdrawal Bill – not to derail Brexit, but to try to make it work for us all.