Brexit is the most important issue facing this country in a generation and it is an issue which has divided families, communities and the country. Our constituency is no different and there are very strongly held views on both sides of the debate. As you know, I voted and campaigned to Remain within the European Union but the public voted to Leave and I believe that result should be respected. However, whichever way people in our area voted I know many share the feeling of anger and frustration at the shambolic state of the Brexit negotiations and dismay at the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated.

Just over two years since the referendum and all the Government have to show for it is indecision, confusion and division. It is clear they cannot agree amongst themselves and cannot secure a deal in the best interest of the UK.

The deal Theresa May has agreed falls far short of Labour’s tests and I will vote against it when it finally comes before Parliament. The deal won’t protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards; it won’t ensure frictionless trade for UK businesses and it provides no certainty about our future relationship with the EU.  The Government’s own economic analysis shows this deal will make the country poorer – with GDP falling by around 3.9% and every region of the UK being worse off.

I oppose this deal because:

  • It rules out a permanent customs union with a British say, which is vital to support businesses, jobs and the manufacturing supply chains they depend on.
  • It does not deliver a good deal on services and would limit access for British businesses to vital EU markets
  • It would weaken workers’ rights, consumer protections and environmental standards.
  • It provides no guarantee that the UK will continue equivalent arrangements with key EU programmes and agencies
  • It will lead to a weakening of our security involvement and gives no certainty the UK will remain part of common EU arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant.
  • The lack of clarity in the political declaration and the absence of a credible solution to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland makes it highly likely that the backstop will be implemented – which would have serious implications.

Furthermore, The Prime Minister’s deal is, in effect, asking MPs to vote for a blind Brexit with no clear idea about the destination. Over the past two years, a significant amount of time has been spent negotiating the terms of our exit from the European Union through the Withdrawal Agreement. However, little time has been spent negotiating what the final deal will look like.

We were promised by Number 10 a “precise future framework”. Instead, we got a vague wish list of options which frankly could have been written two years ago. The Government’s failure to negotiate a robust agreement for our future relationship with the EU means that the UK will almost certainly have to extend the transition period or go onto the so-called backstop.

Extension of transition will come at a high price when the UK’s bargaining power is at its weakest. It will also prolong the period we are subject to rules over which we have no influence. Labour recognise the need to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland in all circumstances. We have always said that any backstop must protect the constitutional integrity of the UK and have support from all communities in Northern Ireland.

But there are significant implications to going on to the backstop that has been negotiated – not least the impact it would have on UK-wide trade, protection of rights, the lack of governance arrangements and the absence of an effective exit clause. The Attorney General’s legal advice made that very clear.

This Government’s botched negotiations and limited progress on the future relationship means it is highly likely that their backstop would be used, and that it would be very difficult for the UK to exit.

Labour has clear negotiating priorities including a permanent and comprehensive customs union and a strong single market deal which would guarantee the “frictionless trade” that the Prime Minister promised at Chequers, but failed to deliver. That would remove any problem of having different regimes between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It would make it far less likely that the backstop would be used.

Finally, I believe it is incumbent upon this Parliament to ensure that we do not leave the European Union with no deal because the consequences of this would be so damaging to our area and to the country as a whole.  If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, we would be immediately subject to the World Trade Organisation rules on trade, which would mean tariffs on all our trade and significant barriers to trade, which would result in cost and delay to business.  A No Deal Brexit would also mean greater customs checks at ports, a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, disruptions to food and medical supplies and would have enormous implications for policing and security.  The UK is involved in thousands of police investigations through Europol and benefits greatly from the European Arrest Warrant, we would lose membership and the benefits of all this were we to leave with no deal.

Taken together, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration are a miserable failure after two years of negotiations. Labour do not accept the choice is now between Theresa May’s deal or no deal. We have been very clear that if this deal is voted down, Labour will work across Parliament to block ‘no deal’. Our preference is for there to be a general election and we will fight for that but, if that is not possible, we will keep all options on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.

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