After four and a half years as a Shadow Brexit Minister, I stood down after the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK was implemented at the end of December. There’s no longer a role for a Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU Negotiations as the UK left the EU transition period, but I will continue to scrutinise the Government’s relationship with the EU and hold them to account on their deal from the backbenches.
Parliament was not given an opportunity to approve, reject or amend the deal (unlike the ‘meaningful vote’ that we secured on Theresa May’s deal) in the special sitting on 30th December; we simply had a vote on the enabling legislation to facilitate it. I voted in favour of that legislation, which laid a stable legal framework for the deal, as without it we would have faced the disruption of a ‘no deal’ departure from the transition period the following day.
As Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU Negotiations I was involved in drafting Labour’s amendments to the legislation, which set out how the deal failed the country and fell short of Johnson’s promises in the General Election. It will damage our economy, undermine our security and weaken our rights and protections. The OBR estimate a deal of this sort will hit economic growth by around 4%; better than leaving the EU without agreement but causing greater long-term harm to jobs and livelihoods than Covid-19.
It particularly fails the services sector, which accounts for 80% of the UK economy; it risks tariffs for parts of the automotive and food sectors; it fails to provide the long-term data adequacy agreement needed by many businesses; it will limit the opportunities for UK citizens to work across Europe; and it fails to deliver on the expectations created for fishing communities.
Our amendment seeking economic impact assessments for the deal aimed to focus attention on where action would be needed, on limiting friction to trade in goods and a proper agreement on services, going beyond the financial and legal sectors. We also sought an arrangement for performing artists and others in the cultural sector to work unimpeded across the EU was another of our amendments, highlighting the need to improve rights to live and work across Europe.
Securing access to the SIS II security alerts database, used by police 1.6 million times a day to keep our country safe; extending non-divergence on protections for workers and the environment beyond the impact on trade and investment provided in the agreement; and continuing the opportunity for our young people to participate in the Erasmus programme were among our other proposals.
Businesses and unions have made it clear to me that any agreement is better than none, not least because of the acrimonious relationship between the UK and the EU that would have followed no deal. They see this flawed and thin agreement as a basis to claw back towards something closer to what we have lost.
We have already seen many ways in which the deal is failing people and business. It was outrageous that the Government timetable for the implementing legislation did not allow us the time to vote on our amendments, but we will continue to push their aims as we go forward. Keir Starmer has committed Labour to holding the Tories to account for it for every day that they are in power.