After almost 20 months of negotiations, mostly with her own party, the Prime Minister has finally presented us with a draft Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on our future relationship with the EU. As a Shadow Brexit Minister I was closely involved in drawing up the six tests against which Labour has consistently said that we would measure the deal. Having we are clear that the draft agreement fails those tests and will vote against it, as I made clear in my speech responding to the Prime Minister on behalf of the Labour frontbench in the first of five days of debate last Tuesday.
The vote on the deal was scheduled to take place on Tuesday 11th December 2018. The Government has now deferred the vote, facing certain defeat in the House of Commons. The Government is in chaos. We will vote against the deal and have tabled an amendment:
“This House declines to approve the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship because it fails to provide for a permanent UK-EU customs union and strong single market deal and would therefore lead to increased barriers to trade in goods and services, would not protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, allows for the diminution of the United Kingdom’s internal and external security and is likely to lead to the implementation of a backstop provision in Northern Ireland that is neither politically nor economically sustainable; declines to approve the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement; and therefore resolves to pursue every option that prevents the United Kingdom’s either leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement or leaving on the basis of the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House.”
This amendment rejects ‘no deal’ and calls on a UK-EU customs union and a strong relationship with the single market. If our amendment does not pass and the Government’s motion falls (whenever it is voted upon), we will proceed in line with the composite motion agreed at the Labour Party Conference, which is to seek a General Election to sweep away this failed Government. If a General Election is not possible then other options must be kept open. That includes campaigning for a public vote, with Remain as an option.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement weakens our economy
The Withdrawal Agreement is the lengthy part of the draft deal. It covers mostly technical details about our financial obligations to the EU, the transition period, during which we will continue to comply with EU regulations, although losing our role in shaping them, and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. It also includes a Northern Ireland ‘backstop’, to ensure that there will be no hard border in Northern Ireland, which the Prime Minister insists will not need to come into force, because she argues a trade deal with the EU will be negotiated in time for the end of the transition period at the end of 2020. All existing trade deals with the EU have taken several years to negotiate and so it is likely that there will be an extension of the transition period (dates are already being discussed) or the backstop will be triggered. Without a clear commitment to a permanent customs union, guaranteeing frictionless trade with our most important trading partner, manufacturing will be damaged and economic uncertainty continue.
The draft political declaration leads us towards a blind Brexit
In contrast with the 585 pages of the Withdrawal Agreement, the draft political declaration which covers the vital issue of what our future relationship with the EU will look like, runs to just seven pages. Detail is lacking on every aspect of our future relationship – from what our involvement in EU agencies that help keep us safe, like Europol, will look like, through to whether we will participate in programmes like Erasmus or play any part in the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines across the continent. There are just three pages covering our future economic relationship with the EU, and because the Prime Minister tried to appease the Brexit extremists on the right wing in her party by committing to take us out of the Customs Union and insisting on there being no role for the Court of Justice of the EU, our future economic relationship will undoubtedly make us worse off. The EU has been clear from the start that we can’t have a close economic relationship if we refuse to accept a body that polices the rules, like the Court of Justice. British businesses and trade unions wouldn’t want that either, as they would have no redress if businesses in other European countries tried to undercut them by failing to respect rules on things like product regulations or environmental standards. Labour, echoing these concerns, has consistently warned the Prime Minister not to throw the baby out with the bath water in this way, yet she has failed to listen.
Labour will not allow a no deal Brexit
I have set out below how the draft Withdrawal Agreement and, most importantly, the political declaration on our future relationship with the EU, do not meet the six tests Labour said we would measure the deal against. The Prime Minister herself committed to meeting our tests, and she has catastrophically failed. In voting down the Prime Minister’s deal, however, Labour is clear that we must not leave the EU without any deal at all. This would cause huge damage to our economy and people’s jobs, our security services, peace in Northern Ireland and much more besides. There is no majority in Parliament for such a course of action, and Labour will lead Parliament in directing the Government away from it. We will have the opportunity to do so when the vote on the deal is brought before Parliament, as well as any legislation that would be required for its implementation. Read more about how Labour will avoid a no deal Brexit here.
The draft agreements fail Labour’s six tests
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
The political declaration fails to go beyond incredibly vague aspirations such as achieving “dialogue and exchange in areas of shared interest” and “consideration of appropriate arrangements”. It contains no tangible commitment to retain membership or equivalent arrangements in a whole raft of agencies and programmes Labour would seek to remain in, such as Erasmus, the European Medicines Agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency and Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme. There is nothing in the backstop provision to suggest continued participation in vital EU agencies.
- Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
This deal will not deliver frictionless trade. It does not include plans for a permanent customs union – which is vital to protect manufacturing, and Labour has been clear is essential in any deal we could accept. On services, it is very vague. The political declaration only seeks the bare minimum – “beyond…WTO commitments”.
Should the backstop be triggered, there will be significant barriers to trade for firms in Great Britain. This is because Great Britain (not Northern Ireland) will be out of single market regulations for goods, and the whole of the UK will be out of the single market for services. This means frictionless trade cannot be achieved and there will be a hugely negative impact on the economy.
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
The draft political declaration makes reference to “temporary entry and stay of natural persons for business purposes in defined areas” and “visa-free travel for short-term visit” but sets out no detail on either of these points.
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
The Agreement makes no commitment for the UK Government to keep pace with the development of EU rights and protections, potentially leaving us lagging behind our European partners on workers’ rights and environmental protections, which has always been the aim of leading Brexit campaigners. As importantly, the enforcement mechanism following the implementation period – a Joint Committee with appointees from both the UK and the EU – will not be accessible by individuals or organisations, so it represents a huge setback for rights protection. Employees or consumers will no longer be able to point to a right that has been infringed and get redress as they can now. Instead they will be reliant on the UK Government bringing an allegation against the EU for breaching the Agreement and have more limited access to justice through UK courts.
- Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
There is no separate security arrangement proposed for the backstop period. That means that following the transition, existing security arrangements would fall away.
The draft political declaration also implies that the Government have given up on retaining key common EU security arrangements – including the European Arrest Warrant arrangements – and it makes no clear commitment to maintain current arrangements in Europol and Eurojust, only unspecified “cooperation” in both.
- Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
The Prime Minister’s insistence on taking us out of the Customs Union and Single Market mean all areas of the economy, up and down the country, will be poorer as a result of the agreement, as was confirmed in the Treasury’s own analysis of the options for leaving the EU.