Last week the Government suffered yet another historic defeat, as Theresa May’s Brexit deal was again heavily rejected by MPs.
It was a bad deal when it was first presented last November, and for all the Government’s delays and bluster it remains a bad deal now. That’s why last week I voted against it for the second time.
Last week, as well as the second vote regarding the deal, Parliament also held votes on No Deal, a second referendum, and extending Article 50. I will take each of those votes in turn and set out what I think should happen next.
I voted against No Deal. First, and to be clear: being against No Deal as an option has always been Labour’s position, and it was explicitly stated in the 2017 manifesto on which I was elected to represent Heywood and Middleton:
“Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option and, if needs be, negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ for the UK economy.”
(Labour manifesto, 2017: https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/negotiating-brexit/#first)
Second, the Leave campaign itself made it perfectly clear during the Referendum that we would leave with a deal. For example:
“The day after nothing changes legally. There is no legal obligation on the British Government to take Britain out of the EU immediately. There will be three stages of creating a new UK-EU deal – informal negotiations, formal negotiations, and implementation including both a new Treaty and domestic legal changes. There is no need to rush. We must take our time and get it right.”
(Vote Leave: http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/briefing_newdeal.html)
“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.”
(Vote Leave: http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/our_case.html)
Finally, the information which was sent out by the Government at the time of the Referendum made it absolutely clear that a new deal will have to be struck (see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/515068/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk.pdf).
Nobody could therefore have voted expecting No Deal to be the outcome.
So why am I against No Deal, and why have so many – including the Vote Leave campaign back in 2016 – been keen to rule it out? The possible and likely effects of No Deal have been widely reported (for example see https://news.sky.com/feature/what-would-life-in-a-no-deal-brexit-uk-look-like-11584899) but I don’t rely solely on what the media reports. I am regularly contacted directly by industry representatives, individual businesses, health care providers and others, operating at both local and national levels, to warn about the huge damage No Deal could have on the economy, trade, jobs, British farming, the NHS, national security, and prices of essential everyday items from food to clothing.
As an example of how No Deal could directly affect everyone here in Heywood and Middleton, major food retailers including Asda, M&S, the Co-Op, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, McDonalds, and KFC have warned:
“We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit. We anticipate significant risks to maintaining the choice, quality and durability of food that our customers have come to expect in our stores, and there will be inevitable pressure on food prices from higher transport costs, currency devaluation and tariffs.”
(Letter from representatives of the British Retail Consortium, 28th January 2019: https://brc.org.uk/media/378130/no-deal-brexit-letter.pdf)
The most recent figures I have for foodbank use in Heywood and Middleton show that between 1st April and 30th September 2018, 1136 three-day emergency food supplies were given to local people in crisis, with 406 going to children. It would be grossly negligent and irresponsible for me to support No Deal in the knowledge that food prices would rise, at a time when so many families are already struggling to afford the basics in life. I simply won’t do it, and that’s why I voted against No Deal last week.
In last week’s vote on a second referendum I abstained: I wouldn’t rule it out entirely as a way to break a deadlock, but it certainly is not my preference. Only as an absolute last resort, if all other means of avoiding No Deal have failed, would I support a second referendum.
Events are currently moving very quickly, and they took another big turn on Monday when Commons Speaker John Bercow announced that he would not allow the Government to bring back the PM’s deal for yet another vote unless it was substantially different to that already twice rejected. He has attracted some criticism for this, but he is absolutely correct. No Government should be allowed to waste Parliamentary time simply trying to hammer MPs into submission by putting the same Bill to a vote again and again until they get the result they want.
Labour has said for some time how the PM’s plan appeared clear: run down the clock, and use the looming threat of the deadline to scare MPs into eventually backing her deal. That approach demonstrates contempt for Parliament and now, thanks to the clarity provided by Mr Bercow, the Government must surely realise that they have to take a different, more constructive approach.
The final vote we had last week was on the possibility of extending Article 50, to give Parliament the time it needs to discuss next steps. I voted in favour of this, and the idea is increasingly receiving support from those on all sides of the debate who accept the reality that leaving with a good deal a little later than intended is better than leaving with a bad deal – or No Deal – now. As I write, reports suggest Theresa May is preparing to ask the EU for an extension, and given the decision of Mr Bercow, this appears to now be the only sensible option.
I have always respected the result of the Referendum. I voted to trigger Article 50, and I want to leave with a deal which protects jobs, the economy, security, and our rights at work.
If, as expected, Article 50 is indeed extended to allow more time for negotiations, Theresa May simply must take a different approach and do what she should have done a long time ago: put the country before her Party, and reach out across Parliament to build consensus for such a deal that could secure a majority of support both in Parliament and the country.