European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 31st January 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 5:10 pm, 31st January 2017

Other speeches have been eloquent, passionate and constitutionally well informed. This speech will not be that. I want this speech to be about, and to be addressed directly to, my constituents.

The residents of Trafford voted to remain in the European Union, reflecting, I believe, our long and proud industrial history of trade, export and innovation. Trafford Park, in my constituency, was the first—I think it remains the largest—industrial estate in Europe. It is home to many domestic, European and international businesses, some of which have been based there for many decades. We welcome, too, EU and international businesses and manufacturers who have established sizeable operations elsewhere in the constituency. They make a significant contribution, nationally and locally, to the economy and employment. They are successful, they are thriving and many have been very clear with me that leaving the EU will make doing business more complex, uncertain and difficult. They highlight the importance of access to the EU market and skilled EU workers, consistent regulatory standards, and avoiding tariff barriers.

They are also adaptable. I do not say that on leaving the European Union their businesses will fail or be unable to adapt to new circumstances. However, what they look for, as far as possible, is continuity and certainty. What they say to me is that neither of those appears likely as a result of the Bill. What we know is not what we will have, but what we will not have. Single market access is out and so is full membership of the customs union. In their place come vague aspirations of new deals and arrangements with the EU and other countries that completely fail to recognise that our aspirations may not match those of our partners. On 17 January, when the Secretary of State came to this House to make a statement on the Prime Minister’s speech, I asked what he thought would happen in the gap between current trading arrangements ending and new ones being negotiated. He suggested there would be no such gap. I think that is fanciful. It is a head-in-the-sand attitude to negotiations. We have to recognise that leaving the EU will create gaps and shocks in our economy.

Shocks can of course be managed, but not by outright denial of their existence. With the Bill, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. We are being asked to vote to trigger the exit process with no evidence at all that there is a plan in place to protect our economy and our constituents. Important protections and standards all remain to be secured, whether in relation to our economy, our trading relationships or our security. To be asked now to endorse an exit process, when the answers to those important questions are still so vague, does not bode well for the outcome. In fact, the position with the Bill is so uncertain that I find it impossible to vote for it. I will abstain on the vote tomorrow. If the Government cannot allay my concerns during the remainder of the Bill’s passage through Parliament such that I can be sure that my constituents’ interests will be protected, at the final vote I will oppose it.

In saying that, and in concluding, I want to address the argument about respecting the referendum result. I have thought deeply about this, as I have sought to balance the wishes of voters in Trafford with the national result in a referendum for which I freely acknowledge I voted. Some of my constituents who voted to remain have told me they now feel we have no choice but to accept the result, but others do not think that. I have been sent here by my constituents to represent their interests as I see best, and I am falling back on my conscience.

Everything I have done in politics and public policy has been informed by what I believe to be the most important priority: namely, what is the interest not just of my constituents but of future generations, and I do not believe that future generations will be well served by woolly aspirations to address the economic, social and security needs of their futures, by our turning our backs on maximum access to the single market, by the absence of detail on rights, protections and security or by Ministers’ complacent optimism or lazy promises.

The Government could make good these deficiencies, were they to accept many of the amendments to the Bill, but unless that happens we should not proceed to trigger article 50. In my view, Mr Clegg was right to say that the judgment of future generations is what must guide us in making a decision on the Bill. We will be judged by them on the deal they inherit.