I would not have believed two years ago that we would find ourselves with just a few days to go before exit day and still have absolutely no idea if we will be crashing out of the EU without a deal. Last week, the EU offered a short extension to this Friday’s alarming deadline, to 22 May if parliament agrees to the Prime Minister’s deal. And if we don’t, we will have to indicate by 11 April how we intend to proceed.
I haven’t made any secret of my view that leaving with no deal at all would be bad for the UK, bad for the rest of the EU, and disastrous for my constituents. After all, I represent a constituency with a long established manufacturing tradition, and I know from conversations with businesses in the constituency of the scale of chaos that ‘no deal’ would cause. Rules on tariffs, product regulations, and safety standards would all be thrown up into the air. Haulage companies bringing in raw materials or transporting finished products could face long delays at the ports. ‘Just in time’ models of manufacturing (used by many businesses in my constituency) would grind to a halt.
So I’m just shocked that the Prime Minister is still trying to hold a gun to MPs’ heads with the threat of no deal. Her performance on television last Wednesday night, blaming us for rejecting the poor deal that she has negotiated, when she has flatly refused to compromise, and questioning our integrity and determination to do our best for our constituents, is an utter disgrace. She has one approach only to dealing with Brexit, and that’s to beat us over the head with her deal and refuse to consider any other choice.
Time is really running out, however. European parliamentary elections are looming, and we have to know by 11 April if we’ll still be in the EU after June and will need to elect MEPs. There are a number of potential ways through this mess, and the really important thing for those of us determined to do all we can to prevent a hard Brexit is to find the common ground. To that end, I’m supporting a motion that parliamentary business on Wednesday should be given over to allowing MPs to debate and determine the way ahead, not just to be faced with only the PM’s choice. I know people are desperate for a public vote, or to revoke article 50, or support Common Market 2.0. but we need to work our way systematically through the options to find where the greatest consensus lies.
And if the upshot of that is that we participate in the European parliamentary elections in May, well, I’d rather have UK representatives in the EU parliament than not while our relations with our European neighbours hang in the balance in this way. Meanwhile, I joined up to a million people marching through London to demand a people’s vote. I was a reluctant convert to the idea of a public vote initially, but now I feel very strongly that the only way to heal our country will be to give the people the final say. We now know something that couldn’t have been known in 2016, which is the details of what a Tory Brexit deal would look like. And in my opinion, it’s not a good deal, but I also accept that people did vote to leave in 2016, and that’s why I think they should now be asked to vote to confirm that they want to leave on the terms the Tories are offering. If they do, then fair enough. But personally, I’d be campaigning to say we’d be better off to remain.
Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement has huge implications for jobs, industries and businesses in the UK. It also has enormous implications for the ability of a future Labour government to implement a programme that will transform our country. There is no question that May’s deal is a bad deal. As Jeremy Corbyn said last December, her deal ‘is a monumental and damaging failure for our country’, ‘a worst-of-all-worlds deal that works for nobody, whether they voted leave or remain’.
The Labour for a People’s Vote campaign provided a briefing on the top ten reasons why May’s deal should be impossible for any Labour MP to support, however their constituency voted in 2016. Among these ten reasons, four stand out.
First, the deal decides nothing. It gets us out of the EU, and then gives the Tories a blank cheque to negotiate the future relationship, not only with the EU, but with every other country with whom we would trade in future. This would mean trusting the Tories not to sell off the NHS to US corporations, not to devalue our food standards and workers’ rights, and not to let our manufacturing sector die, just as they allowed so many industries and jobs to be destroyed in the 1980s. We want to see a general election and the election of a Labour Government as soon as possible – but while the Tories remain in power, they, not Labour, will be negotiating these binding international agreements. Parliament has a say over Brexit – but would get little say over future trade deals. If we fail to use the agency we have now, it will be too late.
Second, leaving the EU would leave us as a rule taker, not a rule maker. It’s no wonder that most Leave voters hate May’s deal. Voters who wanted us to ‘take back control’ must be aghast at the idea of an agreement that would leave us subject to EU regulations, the ECJ and Commission decisions for as long as the backstop is in force, which means pretty much indefinitely – but without any say in those arrangements.
Third, it would endanger hard won workers’ rights and protections. The TUC and trade unions have been unequivocal in their rejection of May’s deal, arguing that its ‘flimsy proposals’ ‘won’t protect our rights at work or stop us falling behind the rest of Europe.’ To believe May’s promises would be to believe that the Tories could be trusted on workers’ rights – when the last 30 years prove the exact opposite to be true.
Finally, and importantly for all of us who want to see a Labour government that will transform Britain, the Tories are quietly using the withdrawal agreement to bind our hands. Convention is that one government cannot bind any future government. But international treaties are binding, and far harder to change. The Tories have written provisions into the agreement that would make it harder for the UK government than it is now, as an EU member, to renationalise industries or support key sectors including manufacturing, meaning state aid and competition law would be applied in a more draconian fashion than currently. Labour MPs will not vote for this underhand attempt to rob us of the ability to protect jobs and support key industries.
It’s worth remembering that in January Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement went down to the worst parliamentary defeat in history. She failed to convince her own party, her coalition partners, and the opposition that her deal was right for the country. She has failed too to convince the public –YouGov found that in only two, out of 632, constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland do a majority of voters want their MPs to support the agreement.
In putting together a deal that would leave us poorer, that would give us less say over the running of our country and economy than we have as members of the EU, and that would leave the future undecided, May has united Britain against her deal. In seeking to obstruct a future Labour Government, she has again shown that she cannot be trusted – not least on workers’ rights. She has made no changes, she has not listened, she has won no concessions from the EU. Yet despite January’s mammoth defeat, she is bringing her deal back to be voted on again. MPs need to stick with our instincts, and those of our constituents, and tell her again, we hope for the final time, that her deal cannot stand.