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Since the vote nearly seven months ago, a shadow has been cast across this country. The decision to leave the EU has weighed heavy on us all. It has divided communities, workplaces, families and political parties. The campaigns were not our finest hour. I campaigned to remain in the EU not because I thought the EU was perfect but because I did not want the UK to close its doors and shut itself off from the rest of the world. I want us to work with our European neighbours to find common solutions to the multitude of problems every developed country faces, from a rapidly aging population and its impact on our healthcare and pensions system to the co-ordinated action necessary to tackle climate change and terrorism.
My constituents voted 66% in favour of leaving the EU, and I respect that decision. Some voted to leave because of concerns over immigration and fears that this was negatively impacting on the availability of jobs and local services; some voted out because they thought it would mean more money for the NHS; and for some, the referendum was an opportunity to register their discontent not just with the EU but with the direction the country was travelling in as a whole. While globalisation has brought wealth and economic growth, it has also left many people behind. In Burnley, people have seen manufacturing jobs decline and wages stagnate while bankers pay themselves million-pound bonuses and the rich increasingly find ways to dodge paying tax. They have been told consistently by the Government that the UK is the fastest-growing economy in the G7, and yet they have not seen that growth. They do not see more job opportunities or wage increases; all they find is that things are getting harder.
Because I respect my constituents and the democratic process, I will vote to trigger article 50, but I will not vote blindly for a Brexit deal that leaves my constituents poorer or worse off. First, the deal must protect jobs, which means access to the single market. Some 5,000 people in Burnley work in manufacturing and many of our biggest employers are European. It is vital that these jobs be protected. Secondly, workers’ rights must be protected. I am proud that past Labour Governments have championed workers’ rights. Thirdly, Burnley receives £5 million a year from EU funding. This money is vital, and has helped us to expand. The Government must commit, beyond 2020, to replacing that investment.
These circumstances were not of my making, but I believe that we must now seize the moment and all work together to do our very best to achieve a deal that will serve the interests of all our people and, in so doing, begin to heal the divisions in our country.