As we head into another week in which Brexit will dominate the news, there’s only thing that we can be sure about – the clock is ticking faster! There are just 49 days until we are scheduled to leave the EU on 29th March, but we still haven’t seen Theresa May’s solution to the crisis she has created. She is tabling a statement to the Commons on Wednesday, which will be debated on Thursday, but all the signs are that she’s going to kick the can down the road again.
After the massive defeat of her deal on 15th January, she had a choice: try again to appease the hard right of her party and the DUP, or reach out to the sensible majority in Parliament who would accept the sort of close relationship with the EU that I wrote about straight after the referendum. It was a choice between what’s best for the country and what’s best for her party. Again, she put party before country and focused on the Northern Ireland backstop.
Ignoring the concerns of most MPs who rejected her deal, which is about the damage it would do to jobs and the economy, she decided to seek the changes to the backstop demanded by the DUP and ‘Brexit extremists’, (to quote her Chancellor), of the so-called ‘European Research Group’. So she headed to Brussels seeking to change the backstop that she had pleaded so hard for the EU27 to accept; asking for amendments to a deal that, three weeks ago, she had said was unamendable.
The crisis is deepening because of the decisions that she has made, but there is a way out. When I responded as Shadow Brexit Minister to the debate opened by the Prime Minister back on 5th December, I urged her to reach out to the majority in the Commons (read my speech here) for a sensible approach covering the customs union, single market, and participation in the agencies and partnerships we’ve built together. It’s a point I’ve made before and echoed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech last February.
Labour has now reiterated our proposal, with more detail, in a letter to the Prime Minister. There are five key points to our proposal for a Brexit deal the reflects the result of the referendum while mitigating the damage it will do to our economy:
- A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union. This would include alignment with the union customs code, a common external tariff and an agreement on commercial policy that includes a UK say on future EU trade deals. We believe that a customs union is necessary to deliver the frictionless trade that our businesses, workers and consumers need, and is the only viable way to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.
- Close alignment with the Single Market. This should be underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, with clear arrangements for dispute resolution.
- Dynamic alignment on rights and protections so that UK standards keep pace with evolving standards across Europe as a minimum, allowing the UK to lead the way.
- Clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation.
- Unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases.
We will not allow the catastrophe of crashing out with ‘no deal’, shrinking the economy by 10%; nor will we support her deal which reduces it by 4% and fails the six tests which we set and which she said that she was “determined to meet”. Our amendment to the Government’s motion on 29th January called for such a relationship and for legislation to enable a further public vote, in line with the position taken and overwhelmingly endorsed by Labour Party members at our Conference last September. Our proposal provides a way forward that could win a majority in Parliament and could unite a country which has been so bitterly divided by the referendum. If she rejects it, the only option left to break the impasse will be to put the issue back to the people in a further public vote.