I campaigned and voted to Remain on 23 June 2016, but as a democrat I accepted the result. I would have taken this view even if my Aberavon constituency had voted Remain. This was a UK-wide vote, and 52% of that electorate voted to leave. Those are the rules, and a democracy that ceases to play by the rules is a democracy that will ultimately destroy itself.
My subsequent campaign for Common Market 2.0 – whereby Britain would leave the ECJ, the CAP and the CFP, and in so doing bring powers back to our national Parliament, whilst maintaining full participation in the Single Market – reflected the fact that in 2017 I stood on a Labour manifesto that promised to respect the referendum result whilst protecting jobs and livelihoods. Labour’s 2017 position was the right position, and we should have stuck to our guns.
In Spring of this year Theresa May finally did what my Party had been asking her to do for two years. She reached out, and initiated six weeks of serious and constructive cross-party talks. The result of those talks wasn’t perfect, but it was a package that included: close alignment with the Single Market and dynamic alignment on rights and protections for workers (eg minimum paid holiday), consumers (eg food safety) and the environment (eg emissions) – meaning that UK standards would always keep pace with evolving standards across the EU.
We should have grasped this offer with both hands, but because it didn’t include an up-front commitment to a second referendum we walked away, thus handing the keys to number 10 to Boris Johnson.
Over the past four months our ‘MPs For A Deal’ group have asked Johnson to bring back that cross-party deal, or something similar. But instead of compromising, Johnson has come back from Brussels with a harder Brexit – one that I simply cannot support in its current form.
The Prime Minister has removed ‘level playing field’ provisions on workers’ rights and environmental and consumer standards from the Withdrawal Agreement altogether and diluted the language in the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship. It is essential that our rights and standards are anchored in international law, because we know we can’t trust the Tories not to turn our country into a deregulated Singapore-on-Thames.
This is a major problem, not only because it cuts across my Labour values, but also because the EU will not do a trade deal with a country that seems to be hellbent on a race to the bottom. Johnson’s deal is therefore a trap-door to no-deal at the end of the transition period, thus putting tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in jeopardy.
Despite my best efforts to negotiate with the government, Number 10 has failed to convince me that my constituents’ workplace rights are safe in the Prime Minister’s hands.
I am also disappointed that the government’s uncompromising attitude has prevailed in regard to the timetable for getting the Bill through Parliament. This is the most important legislation since the Second World War, so Parliament needs proper time to scrutinise the Bill. I am therefore voting against the Programme Motion tonight in the expectation that the government will come back tomorrow morning with a more realistic timetable.
None of these decisions are easy. I have the utmost respect for colleagues in my party who have chosen to vote for this deal at Second Reading and I utterly condemn the way in which they have been attacked by certain journalists, commentators and self-appointed standard-bearers of the Left.
The fact remains that it is only by re-discovering the lost art of compromise that we can begin to re-unite our deeply divided country.
This is why I have today tabled a cross-party amendment to Johnson’s deal which seeks to ensure level playing-field commitments are placed at the heart of the government’s negotiating objectives for the future UK-EU relationship. If my amendment is selected for a vote, and passes, this will certainly make the deal more acceptable to Labour MPs when it comes to the final third reading vote.
I will therefore continue to strain every sinew to build a cross-party approach that enables us to both respect the referendum result and protect the jobs and livelihoods of our constituents.
We need to leave with a deal. But not with this deal as it stands.