2018-11-16 Brexit

After a narrow majority of people voted to leave the European Union in 2016, Parliament respected that Referendum by voting to trigger Article 50, to prepare to leave.  Like leaving home, you need not just to say goodbye to your family but also to check that you have packed all the things you need, that you have a flat to move to and that you know where it is and how to get there.  That’s why there are 2 years between signalling the intention to leave, which we did, and actually leaving, which is what will happen on March 29 next year unless there is a massive change of heart.

In March 2017, at the time of the vote on Article 50, Labour laid down 6 tests which we believe any deal would need to meet in order to give “leave” voters the Brexit which they voted for.

Labour did not support the vote to leave during the Referendum campaign, and almost all Labour MPs campaigned against it during the referendum campaign.  I still think it was a mistake, but in respect for the outcome of the referendum I, and the Labour Party as a whole, have urged the Conservative Government to put into practice the promises of a good Brexit that so many of them made before June 2016.  Indeed, wherever and whenever we believe they have shied away from those promises, we have tried to amend what they are doing.  Every single time, they have voted against our amendments. The only amendment we managed to pass was to give Parliament a vote over the final deal.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister presented her “Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal” of the UK from the EU.  This “deal” is in fact nothing of the sort. Although it is 585 pages long, it does nothing to prepare us for the new trade agreements that we will need when we have left.

It will harm jobs and the economy.  There are no plans for a permanent customs union, which is essential for frictionless trade and manufacturing.  There is no mechanism to protect financial services – including the insurance business which is so important for Ipswich people.  There is a very real risk that this deal will result in companies moving their business and working people being made redundant.

There is no guarantee for worker’s rights – such as holiday entitlements – nor any guarantee of protection for the environment.  The European Union has the strongest working rights and environmental protections in the world.  There is a very real danger that future trade deals with the USA, or future Conservative government decisions on behalf of big business, will ditch those protections.

The “backstop” introduced to try to keep the Northern Ireland border open without staying in the Customs Union, will commit us to remaining in arrangements which treat Northern Ireland differently, and which we cannot leave without the permission of the EU.

There is no commitment to the European Arrest Warrant, so we won’t automatically be able to arrest people charged with offences in other European countries, or expect them to arrest criminals who have escaped from this country.

There is no commitment to cooperate with European bodies such as Erasmus or Horizon, which help us to learn from each other and develop the knowledge-based economy of the future.

There is not even any certainty over future immigration rules.  The Prime Minister said we would “end free movement once and for all” – but most immigration in the UK comes from non-European countries, and this withdrawal agreement says nothing about working with the rest of Europe in order to develop a fair and firm immigration policy which works for all.

The Prime Minister looked weak and wobbly in Parliament yesterday.  Some of her Conservative MPs do not want a deal – any deal – and would be happy to see jobs lost and rights torn up just so that we can leave without any deal at all.  Most MPs urged her to think again, because there was no way she would get a majority for the deal she was presenting.

She gave no indication that she might alter this draft agreement before the European Council on 25th November, but we cannot be certain until after that date what we will actually get to vote on.  When we do get the Final Deal I cannot believe, unless it is radically different from this draft, that the Prime Minister will get support for it from Parliament – if she still is Prime Minister by then.