The Prime Minister returned to the Commons today, with just 31 days until our departure from the EU, and kicked the can down the road again. As I sat on our front bench listening to her statement, I was struck by how little of what she said, even at this late stage, was new.
Responding to growing splits on her backbenches she did promise a vote on a three-month extension to Article 50, and a vote on ruling out a no-deal Brexit, if her deal is rejected when she brings it back for a vote by 13 March. But there was nothing of substance on her ‘negotiations’ with the EU27.
Without spelling out any detail on how she is seeking to amend the deal that she previously described as unamendable, she repeated that she was in discussion on changes to the backstop that she had previously pressed the EU27 to accept. She continues to ignore the concerns of most of the 432 MPs who rejected her deal, which is about the damage it would do to jobs and the economy.
After the massive defeat of her deal on 15 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. Choosing between what’s best for the country and what’s best for her party, she put her party first.
It didn’t have to be like this. When I responded to the debate that she had opened in December, I urged her to reach out to the majority in the Commons (read my speech here) for a sensible deal covering the customs union, single market, and participation in the agencies and partnerships we’ve built together, echoing Jeremy Corbyn’s speech last February.
Tomorrow, Labour will table an amendment making one more attempt to secure a sensible deal based on the five points in Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to the Prime Minister on 6 February, on which the EU27 would negotiate. In summary our proposals are for:
- A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, including 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.
- Close alignment with the Single Market, 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.
If there is no Commons majority for our alternative Brexit deal, we will put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a no deal outcome, in line with our conference policy. I have always had reservations about a further referendum, which I have spelled out to constituents who have written to me, but Theresa May’s refusal to listen or to compromise on her ‘red lines’ will leave no alternative.
There will be more amendments tomorrow, including ones tabled by Yvette Cooper and others from across parties which seek to ensure that Parliament will have the opportunity to extend Article 50 to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit. There will also be a cross-party amendment seeking to protect citizens’ rights whatever happens in the weeks ahead, which I have signed. These provide important assurances and will be backed by Labour.
We cannot allow the Prime Minister to run down the clock any longer. We will not allow a choice between her deal or no deal; between a 4% or 10% hit on the economy, jobs and public services. A further public vote would give the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU.