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I have listened to yesterday’s and today’s debate, a lot of which has focused on process and procedure. I want to focus on people. I made a very simple promise to the people of Bermondsey and Old Southwark in May 2015 that I would never support anything that would damage them, their lives or their children’s lives. I made that promise precisely because my predecessor was a Liberal Democrat who backed Tory measures—the bedroom tax, cuts to legal aid and tripling tuition fees—that damaged my community. I made that promise, and I stand by it.
I hear from people, day in, day out, about the damage that has been done since the referendum. The universities in my constituency—the London School of Economics, King’s College London, South Bank University and the University of the Arts London—are worried about research funding from the European Union, the Erasmus programme and a drop in international student numbers, which could mean higher fees for British students. That was not in the referendum last year.
I hear from medical professionals who are worried about recruitment. The NHS is not getting £350 million extra a week, and it is struggling, even with 54,000 staff who are non-UK EU nationals. I hear from the financial sector—my constituency has the third-highest level of financial sector employment in the country—that 7,000 jobs have already gone. Nobody voted to lose their job. I hear from food importers, such as Brindisa today and Mamuska! last week, that have seen costs rise since the referendum by 15%. Those costs are being passed on to consumers and customers. People did not vote to pay more for a dinner out.
I hear from hotels. Although tourism has gone up since the referendum, there are many non-UK EU nationals working in our hotels, and there are simply not enough unemployed, unskilled Londoners to fill those jobs if we leave. I also hear from exporters in my constituency, who worry about future tariffs and the cost of things such as having to print a different label for beer bottles that will go into the EU market. I hear from people who are very worried about their economic prospects—young professionals who supported the Conservative party at the last election, but who are now politically homeless.
The former Prime Minister John Major referred to the likes of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mr Duncan Smith, as “bastards”. The former Prime Minister could not have known that his party would become a whole Government full of bastards, who are absolutely causing economic damage to my constituents and the whole country. At the risk of offending my own Front Benchers as well as Government Front Benchers, I say that my members campaigned vigorously to remain in the European Union, and they deserve a Front-Bench position that is not us signing up to the Government’s position, the Government’s timetable and the Government’s curtailing of debate. It is a disgrace.