The Short Read: a summary of my position on Theresa May’s Brexit deal
I am a pro-European who campaigned very strongly to Remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum. I believe that the EU has contributed hugely to peace and prosperity in Europe and that cooperating with our neighbours is the only way to tackle the big challenges facing us in the 21st century.
The leave campaign lied during the EU referendum campaign and broke the expenses limits that were designed to ensure that the campaign was run fairly. There are many things which are now clear, which were either not known or not discussed and debated at the time of the referendum, including the UK government’s own analysis that there is no Brexit scenario in which the UK will not be poorer.
Residents of Dulwich and West Norwood voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU in 2016, and I made a firm commitment to continue to represent their views, and to place our values of tolerance, diversity and internationalism at the heart of my work on Brexit.
I have received many thousands of emails and letters since June 2016 from constituents asking me to oppose Brexit, and if that doesn’t prove possible, to work for the softest possible Brexit. In Parliament I have voted repeatedly against leaving the EU and in favour of a People’s Vote, representing the very strong pro-Remain views of the vast majority of my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood. I will vote against Theresa May’s damaging Brexit Deal and continue to campaign for a People’s Vote and for the UK to stay in the EU.
The Long Read: my views on the European Union, Brexit and what happens next.
At this critical moment in the UK’s history, I wanted to set out in full my position on the UK’s relationship with the European Union, explain how I have represented the residents of Dulwich and West Norwood’s views on the EU over the past three and a half years, the approach I am taking to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and what comes next. Bear with me, it’s a bit of a long read.
My views on the European Union
Our membership of the European Union has delivered profound benefits to the UK over the decades, in terms of peace and prosperity in Europe, a strong framework of human rights, worker and environmental protections. Like every institution, the European Union is not perfect. I would like to see a much stronger focus on the Social Chapter and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as two examples amongst many, but the way to address issues such as these and other concerns is to work together with our European Union partner countries to reform the EU, not to leave the EU.
Notwithstanding its flaws and imperfections, I believe in the European Union as a vehicle for international cooperation and understanding; as a legislature which can deliver important protections for UK citizens which are immune from our local political vagaries; and as a vital facilitator of UK economic growth – 44% of our trade is with our European neighbours.
I stood for selection in the local Labour Party in 2014, and for election in 2015 and 2017 on an explicitly pro-EU platform and I have and will continue to maintain this pro-EU stance.
Campaigning during the 2016 European Referendum
Along with my Labour Party colleagues in Dulwich and West Norwood, I campaigned relentlessly for the Remain side during the 2016 EU referendum.
No other political party campaigned systematically and none came close to the level of work we put in, across every part of Dulwich and West Norwood, from the Angell Town Estate to Dulwich Village. During the closing stages of the campaign I was out knocking doors at least twice a day across the whole constituency and we ran a strong campaign in every single ward on polling day.
I campaigned as hard during the EU referendum as I did in both of the general elections in which my own name was on the ballot paper. As a local Labour Party we made a significant difference to turnout, especially in parts of the constituency where awareness of the referendum and average levels of historic election turnout were both low. And we helped to ensure that Dulwich and West Norwood was the seventh highest pro-Remain vote in the country.
Along with many thousands of Dulwich and West Norwood residents, I was absolutely devastated by the result, and I made a firm commitment that I would continue to represent the very strongly pro-Remain views of my constituents throughout the Brexit negotiating period. The distress amongst residents of Dulwich and West Norwood about Brexit is largely undiminished from 24 June 2016, and I still receive letters and emails every single day from constituents who are profoundly concerned and anxious about Brexit; including from a majority of constituents who simply want the UK to stay in the EU.
How I have represented my constituents since June 2016
One driver of the Leave vote across the country, along with others, was the extent to which some communities felt ignored and let down by mainstream politics. In that context, it was important to me that the 48% of people across the UK who voted Remain – 77% of voters in Dulwich and West Norwood – were not silenced because of a narrow referendum victory, but continued to be represented during the negotiation period. It was important to me that the government was continually reminded that there were many people in the UK – almost half of those who voted – who did not vote for Brexit and who did not want Brexit to happen.
I have sought to represent my constituents faithfully in the way I have voted, and through the contributions I have made in the House of Commons Chamber since the referendum. I voted against triggering Article 50, and against the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at every opportunity. I supported a huge number of amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill which would have secured a much closer relationship with the EU, the retention of human rights, worker and environmental protections, and a meaningful role for Parliament in informing the government’s negotiations.
In the House of Commons Chamber, I have:
Locally, I have held two public meetings organised by Lambeth for Europe and Open Britain, to explain my position on the EU to interested constituents, I have seen many constituents individually in my advice surgeries, and I have sent, quite literally thousands of emails to constituents who have contacted me, setting out my position at each stage of the negotiation.
How I will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal
I believe that Theresa May has failed catastrophically in her Brexit negotiations. This failure began very early on in the speech she made on the steps of Downing Street in which she declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and her Lancaster House speech soon afterwards in which she set out her so-called ‘Red Lines’.
It was clear from the red lines that Theresa May was allowing the hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party to have a role and influence which was grossly disproportionate to the views of the country as a whole. Instead of establishing a set of principles and objectives for the negotiation which sought to build unity in a country split down the middle by Brexit; and instead of being able to see that this process would have implications for the UK which transcended party politics, Theresa May sought only to appease the extremists within her own party who hate the European Union far more than they are concerned about the potentially devastating economic consequences of leaving the European Union for communities up and down the country.
The Prime Minister’s terms were unnecessarily hard line and restrictive – they were not unifying, and they did not have the best economic interests of the UK at their heart, but sought only to keep the Conservative hard Brexiteers on side.
I believe that the Labour Party is absolutely right to have set out six key tests for the Brexit deal. The six tests seek to embody the national interest and to ensure that Labour would not support a deal which left people across the country poorer, and with fewer protections for our environment, rights at work and human rights.
The Prime Minister’s deal fails Labour’s six tests. The government’s own analysis shows that there is no Brexit scenario in which the UK is not poorer. A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research analysing the economic effects of the proposed Brexit deal states that if implemented, by 2030 GDP will be around 4% lower than it would have been if the UK stays in the EU, with a consequent increase in unemployment, downward pressure on wages and lower investment with an estimated £19-21 billion less each year being spent on productive capacity, housing and public infrastructure.
The deal is also fundamentally unstable. The Henry VIII powers established by the EU (Withdrawal) Bill allow the UK government to make fundamental changes to the legislation we currently derive from the EU, so there is every risk – particularly given the lack of support the Prime Minister appears to command within her own party – that she could quickly be replaced by a hard Brexiteer Conservative who could undermine the deal to deliver a much harder Brexit.
I want to see a Labour government delivering a radical, reforming programme of investment in our public services and rebalancing of our economy to make it fairer for everyone. Theresa May’s deal runs a high risk of damaging the UK economy, reducing tax revenue substantially, reducing the ability of a subsequent Labour government to invest in the services we all rely on. I cannot vote for a deal which nobody in my constituency voted for, and which carries with it a very high risk that life will be made harder for millions of people, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.
What happens next?
I will vote against Theresa May’s deal. Contrary to the threats of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and their ilk, I do not believe that there is a majority in Parliament for no deal, and I will also vote for an amendment which explicitly rules out leaving the EU without a deal. If the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated, legal opinion and the EU are both clear that Article 50 can be extended to allow either for a general election or a People’s Vote.
Theresa May should resign and a new Conservative leader should call a general election. A general election would allow the British public their say on both the Conservatives’ deal, and on the damage that this Tory government has been wreaking on communities up and down the country through their programme of austerity.
If the government will not support a general election then I believe that Parliament must allow people the opportunity to vote on whether to accept the Brexit deal on offer or whether to stay in the EU. This is not a ‘second referendum’; it is not ‘asking the same question again until we get a different answer’. It is acknowledging that there is a world of difference between the referendum campaign and the reality of Brexit; and that two years of negotiation have delivered a deal which will leave the UK worse off, and is so vague about a range of fundamental issues that we will be negotiating with the EU for years to come.
The Tories should put their deal to a People’s Vote, and allow the country the opportunity to break the deadlock and have a final say on whether we want to leave the EU on the best terms that Theresa May could negotiate, or whether, after all, we believe we are better off staying in. Those who have confidence in Theresa May’s deal should have nothing to fear from a People’s Vote. It is not undemocratic, it is more democratic, and it is the right thing to do.
In the event of a People’s Vote I will once again campaign strongly to stay in the European Union, reflecting the very strong pro-Remain views of the vast majority of my constituents.