Thank you very much for your email about Brexit. It is utterly extraordinary that two and a half years after the referendum and with only 18 weeks until the end of the Article 50 period, we find ourselves in this mess.
Please also forgive this being a general response, as I know many of you have written to me before and some have raised specific points with me, but the sheer volume of correspondence I have received means that I would rather send a response quickly than spend weeks trying to reply to thousands of people individually.
Most of my constituents know that I have always believed that Brexit would be a disaster and that no possible deal could replicate the advantages of our remaining in the EU. That is why I campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote and voted against the triggering of Article 50, which locked us into a ridiculous timescale for the complicated process of negotiating withdrawal. And whilst I respect the deeply held views of many people who voted to leave, the fact remains that the ‘Leave’ campaign was based on a raft of promises which could never realistically be delivered, and a false prospectus was put before the British people. There was the possibility, in the aftermath of the referendum, that we could aim for a ‘soft Brexit’, which kept us in the Customs Union and Single Market, for example. But this was never the aspiration of the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ who now have such dominance on the governments side. So two years have gone by whilst they tried to square the circle of avoiding damaging the economy whilst ‘taking back control’ from Brussels, and without ever being clear what that means. It is now obvious that they have failed.
The Withdrawal Agreement we have before us exposes all those contradictions. It is, of course, only the first stage of the process, so it has always been essential that it sets out a firm framework for the future relationship. It does not do this - the ‘future partnership declaration is just 7 pages long - which is why it is asking us to agree to a ‘blind Brexit’- the Withdrawal Agreement lays open the prospect of the hardest of Brexits in the aftermath of the transition period, which does not protect jobs, rights or living standards. Despite its considerable length, it is asking us to take a leap into the unknown.
So what is wrong with the Withdrawal Agreement itself?
It won’t protect jobs or the economy.
It won’t deliver frictionless trade. It does not include plans for a permanent customs union – which is vital to protect manufacturing. It is vague on the issue of services, which are the larger part of our economy, the political declaration only seeks the bare minimum – (“beyond…WTO commitments”) and on areas such as financial services it offers no firm mechanism to protect the industry.
In the backstop period there will be significant barriers to trade for firms in Great Britain. This is because Great Britain (though 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.
It will weaken rights and protections
It only provides for a’ no-worsening’ clause for workers’ rights and the environment, which means that we can fall behind the EU as rights develop in future; that a future government could strip away important EU-derived rights and protections – such as TUPE, equal rights for agency workers and paid holidays – so long as the UK Government can argue that the overall “level” remains as per the moment of exit, and it will be very difficult to enforce. Claimants would no longer be able to argue that a specific right or protection has been violated, but instead would need to make a more abstract argument that a “level” had been reduced.
As the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The Government has failed to achieve a Brexit deal that delivers for working people in this country. What’s on offer is a blindfold Brexit. It doesn’t guarantee jobs or rights at work into the future. And it leaves the door open for extreme Brexiteers who want to strip away the protections we already have."
It undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom
The backstop proposes a different constitutional settlement for the UK to the rest of Great Britain, which inevitably raises the potential of further pressure to break up the union from elsewhere, particularly in Scotland.
It doesn’t contain the measures we need to ensure our security
There is no separate security arrangement proposed for the backstop period. That means that following transition (proposed to end on 31st December 2020), existing security arrangements would fall away.
The political declaration also suggests that the Government has given up on key common EU security arrangements – including the European Arrest Warrant arrangements (it speaks only of negotiating “swift and effective arrangements” on extradition, not remaining within the EAW) and it makes no clear commitment to main current arrangements in Europol and Eurojust.
It fails to keep the UK in common EU agencies and to ensure close cooperation
The political declaration relies on incredibly vague aspirations such as achieving “dialogue and exchange in areas of shared interest” and “consideration of appropriate arrangements” – not firm commitments to retain membership or equivalent arrangements in a whole raft of agencies and programmes we would want to remain in (e.g. Erasmus, the EMA, EASA, Horizon 2020).
It offers no certainty over future immigration rules
The political declaration is just two vague sentences and no detail beyond committing to “reciprocity”. This is an extraordinary lack of detail on what was a central issue during the referendum.
This is not a deal I can accept. And, although this is an incredibly fluid and fast moving situation, it doesn’t seem as if the Government has any chance of getting a majority in Parliament.
I also know that leaving with ‘no deal’ would trigger the greatest crisis for this country in modern times - the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has even said he can’t guarantee people would not die as a result.
But we can’t accept that this is a straight choice between a bad deal and no deal.
If Parliament does vote this down in a few weeks time, the only and right option is to give the public the final say on Brexit in a People’s Vote, in which the choice includes staying in the EU.
I believe people are much better informed about the options and the constraints than was the case in 2016. Of course there is a risk involved, but no options now are risk free and I believe this is the only way forward.
I hope this is helpful.
If you haven’t already, please sign up to my newsletter/mailing list (I don’t bombard people!) so I do my best to keep you informed. Link here.
Thanks again and kind regards