Parliament spent two days this week debating and voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill. There were a number of important issues. First, Labour wanted to ensure that parliament will have a meaningful vote on the exit deal the Prime Minister negotiates. If it’s not good enough, MPs need to have a say on what has to happen next. Some Conservatives agree with us, but they did not vote with us this week, having forced Theresa May to give them some sort of assurance to address their concerns – however, there’s no doubt they are now expecting some very concrete evidence she’s going to make good on that promise. We are all waiting to see what that looks like.
Second, Labour voted for the UK to enter into a customs union with the EU. This is really important in my constituency, where we have many manufacturing, importing and exporting businesses. If we’re not in a customs union with the EU, businesses will face new tariffs, which will increase the cost of doing business. The impact will be felt right across our economy, especially in the manufacturing sector. We didn’t win this vote, but there will be other opportunities for parliament to vote on this matter which are coming up in forthcoming legislation.
There were also votes to require the government to negotiate a bespoke deal that ensures we continue to receive the benefits that come from being in a single market with the European Union. This would mean that we would continue to apply common standards and regulations, which would simplify cross-border trade, and is particularly important for our significant service sector. Labour’s frontbench had tabled an amendment that sought to achieve this, but we lost that vote. So I then voted in favour of remaining part of an existing structure that enables countries outside the EU to be part of the single market: the European Economic Area. The EEA isn’t perfect, but with time really running against us now, I believe we have to keep the option on the table so that we can build on the framework it offers. The worst of all outcomes is that we leave the EU with nothing whatsoever in place to protect our trade with our European neighbours.
The debate on these matters isn’t over – there will be more votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords next week. Parliament must not give the government a blank cheque over matters that are so important for our country’s future prosperity.