BREXIT Speech: Voting Against the Deal

Today I will be voting against the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

It is a bad deal that does nothing for people in Midlothian – and the PM cannot make people choose between her bad deal or no deal. Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who took the time to contact me and share their views on the subject.

You can watch my speech on voting against the deal below – sadly, I was only afforded four minutes to make key points.

You can read my speech by clicking here or read my longer, intended speech below:

As will be the case for colleagues across this House, I’ve received hundreds of emails, letters and calls over just the last few weeks from constituents, expressing views from all sides of the Brexit debate.  

Some of these have been from people engaging with their MP for the very first time – at least one positive thing to have come out of the last two and a half years of chaos overseen by this Government.  

But it is sad that people are becoming engaged in politics out of anger and disbelief rather than hope or positive change.  

These views have almost all been fair, good-mannered, well-reasoned positions – whether I agree with their conclusions or not – and the amount of passion for the issue has been very evident.  

The vast majority of correspondence I’ve received since the Prime Minister brought back her deal from the EU has urged me to vote against it.  

Although my constituents have many different views on how our relationship with the EU should be shaped going forward, they are united in their dismay at how the Government has handled the process, how the media have reported events, and how little progress has been made.  

Like me, a large number of my constituents think this botched deal pleases no one. It does not protect jobs and our economy; preserve key protections and rights at work, for the environment, for consumers; nor standards for our food, our health or our safety. It puts our country’s future and prosperity at stake. 

As has been mentioned by a number of colleagues throughout these days of debate, according to the Government’s own economic analysis, this deal will make us poorer – with GDP predicted to fall by around 3.9% (equivalent to £83bn if it happened today) and every region of the UK becoming worse off. 

A constituent of mine recently told me – “My reasons from preferring to remain in the EU go way beyond economics, but I accept that reasonable people can disagree on this. What I think is immoral, is the idea that somehow British people have given their consent to a process that will cause huge economic hardship to large sections of the population.”  

And I agree with him. We have a critical responsibility in this place, not least to the poorest and most marginalised in our society, to protect our economy and public services.  

But that isn’t about telling people their choice was wrong. It’s about looking at the reasons why people voted the way they did and exploring the root of those issues, then working to get genuine change for people, while protecting them, and respecting their choice at the same time. That is our duty. 

A number of constituents have also expressed their concerns about the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the way they have been treated throughout this process. People who have contributed so much to our society have been made to feel unwelcome and have even left as a result.  

A local business recently told me – “The lack of European labour is already damaging our business as we cannot fill our vacancies due to the uncertainty over the right to work”. Another local business, a sector leading renewable energy and low carbon technology company, added – “We employ skilled engineers from around the world and see dangers ahead if we close our doors to researchers from Europe. The UK isn’t creating enough engineers and many of the specialties we need are much stronger in Europe anyway.”  

In fact, the Government’s proposed immigration policy measures skill (and therefore visa type) by pay level, when those in research and technology are often highly skilled but unfortunately fairly poorly paid. 

The Tories say they have given clarity to EU nationals. But my European constituents certainly don’t think so. One constituent told me – “As an EU national who has lived in Scotland for over thirty years and paid taxes throughout that whole time, I am extremely concerned about my right to continue to live and work here, and about my right to access the NHS and other services. I feel that the explanations as to what ‘settled status’ entails in practice have been lacking in clarity so far”.   

In many ways, this deal would undermine opportunities for young, especially working-class, people.  

Youth services in the UK have disproportionately experienced the impacts of austerity over the last 8 years. The loss of approximately £387 million between 2010 and 2016 have led to major scaling back and closure of hundreds of services that had previously met a variety of young people’s complex needs.  

Over this time, EU funding has significantly helped to plug gaps. Yet there is currently a real lack of provision in place to protect or replace this funding. This is extremely worrying given the abysmal approach the Tory Government has demonstrated it takes to youth services over recent years.  

Findings from a panel of young people in Scotland brought together by the organisations Children in Scotland and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) raises, amongst many other things:  

Firstly, the need for continued contribution to Erasmus+, to allow all young people the opportunity to study, volunteer and participate in youth work projects in Europe. With an extra grant fund to support young people from less privileged backgrounds.  

Secondly, the need for workers’ rights to be protected and expanded on.  

And thirdly, the need for all future trade deals to protect food standards, animal welfare, human rights, and the environment. 

And I agree. These young people have a clearer view about what is most important than this shambles of a Government.  

This deal not only puts jobs and our economy, rights and standards at risk, but also risks undermining the integrity of the UK. 

A number of constituents have raised their concerns that the deal risks putting Scotland at a disadvantage compared to Northern Ireland and expressed their grave concerns about what it might mean for the future of our union.  

The deal breaches the so-called red lines laid out by the Scottish Tories, including on Northern Ireland and fishing, but as usual they have fallen into line after being ignored by their Government colleagues and bought out with junior positions within the Government.  

In a letter to the PM in October, the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives and the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote: ““We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.” 

But that is exactly what the backstop part of this deal does.  

Yet again we see the Scottish Tories too weak to influence the Government and too cowardly or concerned with their careers to disagree with the Prime Minister and vote against this deal.  

In fact, throughout the negotiating processes the Government has tried to use Brexit to reinforce the power of the central state. They have reverted to the old, secretive culture of governance, with decisions made by a small few – undermining the devolution settlement delivered by the Labour Party. 

The Conservative and Unionist Party – which supposedly prioritises the integrity of the Union above all other parties – has done more than any other party to damage it. They have repeatedly undermined the authority and trust of the Devolved Administrations, driving yet another wedge into our fragile Union.  

Tory attempts to convince colleagues to vote for this botched deal have been both patronising and painful to listen to.  

From the deeply ironic argument that we should support their deal because the country needs certainty, after the massive uncertainty they’ve caused throughout the process – including extending that uncertainty by delaying the meaningful vote last year for their own political gain, and refusing to take no deal off the table, instead using it as a bargaining chip.  

The Federation of Small Businesses recently found “a recurring view expressed by businesses in Midlothian and elsewhere is a frustration that [two and a half years since the result] we still do not have clarity on what doing business with the EU will look like, meaning that planning for the future is difficult.” 

But the price of clarity and certainty can’t be accepting any deal.  

The Government has also shamelessly tried to use the multiple crises we’re experiencing in this country – in the NHS, in housing, in crime, with rising poverty – which they’ve overseen for almost a decade, to argue that we should accept their deal so we can focus on fixing these issues.  

I find it disgusting that the Government is trying to use the horrific suffering they’ve caused to people and the huge decline in our public services as a way to force through their botched deal.  

There is clearly no desire in this House, or the majority of our country, for a no deal Brexit.  

A recent survey from the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that only 1 in 7 Scottish businesses are currently prepared for a no deal Brexit.  

One local business told me that “a no deal Brexit materially threatens our business and the jobs of 60 colleagues”.  

A constituent with decades of experience in manufacturing and concerned about his craft beer business post-Brexit told me – “A no-deal or a hard Brexit would cause very severe problems for the craft beer industry in Scotland and the UK, and as far as I can see would lead to widespread redundancies and plant closures across much of British manufacturing industry”. 

Labour will do everything in its power to oppose the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.  

Labour is the only party trying to heal the divisions in our deeply divided country.  

As my friend the Member for Leeds East has said “Labour is not the party of the 48% or the 52%. We’re the party of the 99%” 

As the Leader of the Opposition outlined last week – “The real divide in our country is not between those who voted to remain in the EU referendum and those who voted to leave. It is between the many, who do the work, create the wealth and pay taxes – and the few, who set the rules, reap the rewards and so often dodge taxes”  

In contrast the Tories have only exacerbated the divide between Leavers and Remainers – through the original decision to ask such a complex question in an oversimplified way, in the divisive rhetoric they’ve used and the policy choices they’ve made (for example, on immigration), by capitulating to hard Brexitiers for so much of the negotiation process, by failing to attempt to work across Parliament over the last two and a half years. 

Brexit has shaken the establishment awake after decades of complacency – and Westminster can no longer ignore those who for decades have felt like they have had no voice or fair opportunities.  

The Labour Party is absolutely committed to listening to and addressing these concerns – to focusing on inequalities, improving opportunities and outcomes, to increasing political participation. 

When this deal is voted down tomorrow, the Government will have failed to carry the support of the majority of the House on its key piece of legislation.  

As such, a new government needs to be formed and I look forward to taking Labour’s positive, progressive vision, which this country so desperately needs, to my constituents.  

Labour would ensure we protect our economy, jobs and workers’ rights by keeping the UK in a customs union and negotiating a single market deal, as a minimum.  

If the Government fails to cede power, all options – including a public vote – must be on the table.  

The public won’t accept a government that is not even able to maintain the support of its own party, let alone that of Parliament.  

We need an election, for the sake of all the people who are currently suffering under the Government’s policies. To begin to restore support to public services, to our communities, and our declining industries.  

Beyond the many significant issues with the Prime Minister’s deal I’ve outlined, supporting it would mean voting blindly for some vague, non-binding, overly optimistic words about our future relationship with the EU in the form of the political declaration.  

This requires placing great trust in the Government to deliver on their promises – something that the past few years of broken promises and abject failures – from Windrush to Universal credit to rapidly rising homelessness and foodbank use – show is a terrible idea for the people of this country.   

I do not trust this Government and, on behalf of the people of Midlothian, I will not be voting fot this deal.



Monday 14 January 2019