This Brexit deal is Boris Johnson’s mess, but I will vote in the national interest
Tomorrow MPs will have about five hours to debate the Government’s 80 page “Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union Bill” which implements its 2000 page Brexit Deal. I have spent the last few days canvassing views on it from constituents, Labour members, colleagues and businesses. This is not about whether we leave the European Union, that is done. Yes, I argued that Brexit was not in the interests of the United Kingdom, the North East, or Newcastle Central, the constituency I have the privilege to represent and where I grew up. I still believe that. But the country voted, first for an undefined ‘Brexit’ in 2016, and then again and decisively at the 2019 General Election. That ended the debate and our membership of the EU. We have left.
This deal is about our future trading relationship and a flimsy, inadequate relationship it will be, forced on the country by a Prime Minister who knows a ticking clock is his sole effective advocate and only the prospect of the type of chaos we saw in Kent before Christmas makes this the lesser of two evils. Remember this was the deal the Boris Johnson said was “oven-ready” a year ago and in 2017 the then Trade Secretary said would be “the easiest in history”.
What we were promised was frictionless trade with our biggest trading partner. The North East is a trading region, we still make things and 60% of what we export goes to Europe. Small manufacturers like ADM in my constituency and massive employers like Nissan are tied into seamless pan European supply chains. They are all now going to have to complete pages of forms to export and import with checks and delays that will make it harder to be competitive. Michael Gove may claim his bureaucracy boom will make businesses “match fit”, but in reality it’s a far bigger burden for a modern day manufacturer then he would be to Newcastle United, even with its current management.
Then there is what the deal doesn’t cover. Services make up 80% of our economy nationally and they are out of scope, so, for example professional qualifications in accountancy, the arts, finance, media, law and architecture will no longer count in Europe, making it harder for British businesses and individuals to win contracts abroad. We didn’t get the vaunted “security partnership of unprecedented breadth and depth” so it will be harder for our police to trace criminals. Financial services aren’t included, which means the City of London is a big loser but it also impacts the rest of the country – the North East has a growing financial sector with Virgin Money and Atom bank as well as many back office jobs. On issues as diverse as fishing and data adequacy there are fig leaf fudges which will fall away in the long term. It is not a good deal. It does not even have the merit of being the best of a bad deal.
And yet tomorrow I will be voting to implement it. Yes, I resent having to do so. This is Boris Johnson’s mess, two or three times over. Let him sort it out. That’s what I want to say. But I don’t believe that is what my constituents deserve. If I were to vote against it, I would do so in the hope that the majority of MPs did not follow my example. The Prime Minister’s hard right coterie will never allow him to seek an extension to the transition, but there are many who don’t want a deal at all, and therefore the consequence of enough MPs voting against the implementation of the deal would be a no deal Brexit. And yes, I could say it was all the Government’s fault, and I would be right, but where would that leave my constituents, already battered a pandemic the Government has mishandled and left so many excluded without proper support? Businesses and the jobs they support, across the North East depend on us having a deal.
Ah but you could abstain some say, and I understand those who chose to do so. But the fact is I am not indifferent to the outcome. In the national interest I will vote against a no-deal Brexit.
It is ironic that much of the reporting is about short term tactical differences within the Labour Party whilst the Conservative Government crowns a year of pandemic incompetence and cronyism with this chaotic, divisive and inadequate deal. This is Boris Johnson’s deal and he will be accountable for it. The Labour Party will not stand in the way of implementing a deal, but we will also hold up the prospect of a better, more united future for our country. We will build strong relationships with the European Union which promote trade, environmental and labour rights, combat climate change and strengthen our shared values on the global stage. I represent the Labour Party in PES, the Party of European Socialists, made up of left and centre left parties across Europe. We will continue to work with them in the interests of a fairer Europe and towards a Labour Government at the next election.