Opposing extreme Tory Brexit
Updated March 2019
I campaigned relentlessly for the UK to remain part of the EU – for jobs and the economy, for the stability of our continent, for our standing in the world, and because I believe that we can tackle the big challenges we face – from climate change to international terrorism – more effectively with our friends and neighbours. I made the case to hundreds of people at dozens of meetings and, with a great team of volunteers, spoke to over 9,000 people on their doorsteps – as well as delivering around 50,000 leaflets to homes across my constituency.
I campaigned on the understanding that the outcome mattered, because the result would be respected – whichever way it went – and, although close, the decision was to leave. That’s why I voted for the Article 50 Bill, enabling the Government to negotiate our departure. But that does not give them a mandate on the terms of our departure. The only question on the referendum ballot paper was whether to remain or leave the EU. There was no vote on the terms. I believe people voted to come out of the EU; they didn’t vote to lose out.
I’ve been one of Labour’s Shadow Brexit Ministers since October 2016. I took the job to make sure that we leave the EU on terms that protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, keep pace with the highest employment and environmental standards, and enable us to cooperate closely with our European partners on crime and security, as well as maintaining our partnerships on crucial issues like university research collaboration and scientific advancement. I set out my views on our future relationship in this article in the Yorkshire Post.
Theresa May called the General Election last June seeking a mandate for an extreme hard Brexit, but didn’t get it. She made the false claim that opposition parties were frustrating her attempts to get on with Brexit. We weren’t. We voted for her to start the negotiations; we just demanded more information about the Government’s plans for Brexit, which have been held back by the deep divisions within the Conservative Party and between Ministers. The Prime Minister’s election gamble backfired, and she ended up losing her majority in the House of Commons. Now the Tory Government is in chaos. Instead of reaching out to the majority in Parliament and the country for a sensible approach which protects the economy and jobs, Theresa May has allowed the extreme Brexit campaigners in the European Research Group to set the agenda. Their absolutist red lines for the negotiations are making it incredibly hard for us to get a good deal. In the summer of 2017, Labour led the way in calling for a transitional period, on broadly current terms, which the Government accepted and have now agreed with the EU.
In February last year, Jeremy Corbyn set out our view on the next stage of the negotiations of seeking a comprehensive customs union with the EU. This would enable tariff-free access to the EU, our largest trading partner, and protect our manufacturing base and help to keep an open border on the island of Ireland. It is key to protecting jobs and the economy, and gives us a stronger negotiating hand in future trade deals as a market of 510 million people, rather than just 65 million – and being in a customs union does not prevent us trading with the rest of the world as Germany has shown, by exporting four times as much as the UK to China.
We also want the closest possible relationship with the single market, as business and trade unions have argued, to protect jobs and the economy. And we want to maintain membership of the agencies and partnerships that we have built with the EU over the last 46 years – see my article with Keir Starmer here on Euratom, which illustrates our wider concern. I’ve also made Labour’s case for continued collaboration in science and research, which is so important to economic growth across the regions and nations of the UK.
I’ve also led for Labour’s front bench on the crucial issue of the rights of EU nationals, and the 1.2 million Brits working and living in the rest of the EU, which Labour opposed making ‘bargaining chips’ of in the negotiations. I’m continuing to work with them as the Government roll out the new ‘settled status’ for EU citizens here, and on the rights of continued movement within the EU27 for UK citizens there. I wrote to the Immigration Minister and Brexit Minister last month raising concerns about their plans for EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in the EU27 in the event of no deal and put a series of questions to them on the oversights and gaps in the paper.
Labour will not let the country lose out as the Tories put party interests over the national interest. Throughout the lengthy consideration of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which set the legal framework for our departure from the EU, we pressed to minimise the economic damage from Brexit and to retain the rights and protections secured through EU membership – rejecting the absolutist red lines set out by the Government that threaten our economy, crime and justice cooperation, our health service and much more besides.
After months of parliamentary debate, the EU (Withdrawal) Act passed last June. You can read more about our concerns about the Act and why we opposed it here.
Parliamentary attention then moved to the terms of the final deal, on which we had secured a commitment for a meaningful Parliamentary vote. Labour set six tests the deal must meet in order for us to back it, which you can read here. These tests were based on the Government’s own stated objectives and the Prime Minister said that she was determined to meet them. The draft agreement the Government has reached with the EU was published in November and, after reading both Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on our Future Relationship with the EU, we were clear that it failed our six tests.
I set out Labour’s reasons for rejecting the deal when I closed for our front bench on the first day of the Brexit debate on 5th December, which had been opened by the Prime Minister. You can watch or read my speech here. Facing inevitable defeat, she cut short the five days scheduled for debate and postponed the vote until 15th January. After a wasted month, the deal was defeated by the biggest margin in the history of our country; a massive 230 votes.
It was defeated again, by a huge majority, on 12th March and MPs voted to rule out leaving without a deal on the following day. The next day we voted to extend Article 50, but not in the way that Labour wanted. I wound up the debate for Labour, making the case against the proposed Tory Brexit, for a more flexible extension of Article 50, and for a further public vote. See my speech here.
You can read more about the current position in my regular updates on Brexit – read the latest one here.