Lots of constituents have written to me about the Prime Minister’s speech on Brexit, the Supreme Court ruling, and Labour’s response, so I wanted to provide an update:
After months of pressure from Labour and others, the Prime Minister’s speech last week finally gave more detail on the substance of the Government’s Brexit plans, which she has now agreed to set out in a White Paper. It is outrageous that she had to be forced by Labour into telling the country what direction she is taking it in, but we have always been clear – people voted to come out of the EU, not to lose out. And it is vital we get a Brexit deal for the whole country, not just the 52% who voted to leave. The Prime Minister’s u-turns on publishing a White Paper outlining her plans and giving Parliament a vote on the final deal are key concessions Labour has been demanding, and show how we will hold her to account.
Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the role of Parliament in triggering Article 50, the start of the formal process for leaving the EU. Labour accepts the result of the EU referendum was a vote to leave. No one voted on 23rdJune in the belief that Parliament would override the result, and it would undermine democracy if we did. I campaigned relentlessly for the UK to remain in the EU – for jobs, for our place in the world and as the best way to tackle the biggest issues we face from climate change to terrorism. I was deeply disappointed by the result. But the decision was to leave.
The priority now is to get the terms of our exit right. It is vital for our future. Labour has been challenging the Government at every opportunity since 23 June. Having secured changes to the Government’s approach to the Brexit process forcing them to set out their plan, publish a White Paper and give Parliament a say on the final deal; we will now be pressing even harder on the substance of our future relationship with the EU.
As a Shadow Brexit Minister, I’m working with colleagues on a series of Labour amendments to the Government’s Article 50 Bill, which aim to secure publication of their plans before the Article 50 process starts, commit them to a number of key principles (including maintaining protection for workers, consumers and the environment, as well as securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market), resolving the legal status of EU citizens in the UK before negotiations begin, providing regular Parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations, ensuring the Government must seek to retain all existing EU tax avoidance and evasion measures, and ensuring meaningful votes in Parliament on the two parts of the final deal – the terms of our exit and the arrangements for our future relationship. These votes must be held before the Government agrees to both deals.
In her speech, the Prime Minister confirmed she plans to take Britain out of the single market and parts of the customs union. These arrangements currently provide the best possible trading terms for our goods and services with the EU, so the Prime Minister has decided to take a huge risk with people’s jobs and livelihoods. Labour’s response is that we will hold her to her promise of getting a deal that protects our ability to successfully trade goods with and deliver services to the EU.
What does that mean? It means a deal that ensures continued tariff-free trade for UK businesses with the EU; a deal that ensures we maintain regulatory harmony; a deal that protects the competitiveness of our services and manufacturing sectors; and a deal that ensures that existing protections for workers, consumers and the environment are maintained. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer MP put Labour’s position simply in a speech last month by focusing on the outcomes we want.
Achieving “tariff-free trade with Europe” and a “comprehensive” free trade agreement that would ensure the “freedom to provide financial services across national borders”, as the Prime Minister pledged, won’t be easy. But we will hold her to account every step of the way. We will also hold her to her commitment to “protect the rights of workers” set out in European legislation, as well as maintaining the environmental and other safeguards that came with EU membership.
After saying that she didn’t want to keep ‘bits of membership’, the Prime Minister’s speech made clear that the Government now want to maintain collaboration in science and research, in security and defence, and other key areas Labour has been pushing them on. We will seek to hold them to account on these issues too, making sure our universities continue to work together and that we stay part of agencies from Europol to the European Medicines Agency. And we will push hard on her commitment to secure early agreement on the position of EU nationals.
The Prime Minister's threat to turn the UK into a tax haven off the shores of Europe if she is unable to achieve her aims, however, is wholly unacceptable. It harms our negotiating position with our European partners, and makes British living standards a bargaining chip. She has no mandate to implement her threat. Many people voted to leave the EU on the understanding our NHS would receive more funding, not less. Nobody voted for the Prime Minister to rip up our welfare state and start a trade war. Whether her threat was simply posturing to please the hard liners in the Conservative Party or genuine, Labour will oppose such a course at every turn.
I’m questioning the Government on its Brexit plans in Parliament day in day out. I’m holding leave campaigners to account for their promises – from the NHS funding pledge to their commitment that no region will lose out when we stop receiving EU funding, something South Yorkshire does especially well from. It is on this detail – the impact on people’s lives and jobs – that Labour will judge the final Brexit deal. It must be a deal for the 100%.