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The European Union is a bureaucratic, cumbersome and imperfect system, but it is also the longest and most successful peace process the world has ever seen, transforming historical enemies into trading partners, allies and friends. It gave hope to those labouring under the yoke of communism, and it has protected the UK’s workers, consumers and environment, supported the Northern Ireland peace process, and driven Britain’s economy, innovation and prosperity.
I did not vote to hold the referendum, and I campaigned to remain, but people in Wakefield voted to leave. The Labour Whip says that we should trigger, but my Labour values—solidarity, internationalism, social justice—say something else. The Prime Minister talks about free trade, yet she is walking out on the largest free trade area in the world to chase an imaginary trade deal with Donald Trump. A trade deal with the USA is a distraction. The most important trade deal is the one that we negotiate with the European Union. That deal determines whether Brotherton Esseco in Wakefield faces tariffs on the sulphites it exports to wine-makers across the EU, and whether Wakefield farmers face tariffs on the lamb that they export to Belgium.
The Prime Minister has a weak negotiating hand, but she has thrown her cards on the table before the other players have even sat down, rejecting staying in the single market, in which 44% of the UK’s exports are tariff-free. This hard Brexit was not what leave campaigners promised people in the referendum. The UK’s access to the largest free trade area in the world will be worse after 2019, and that puts thousands of British jobs at risk.
An open society without discrimination is the founding pillar of our British and European identity. Since the referendum, hate crime and far-right activity in Yorkshire is up. My father, Tom, died in October. The last vote he cast was to remain in the EU. He came to Britain from Ireland in 1962 to earn his living, met his wife, got his degree, raised his family, and worked and paid his taxes here. After Brexit, someone like him without a degree from, say, eastern Europe will face barriers in coming here. I hope that we are better than that.
To the people of Wakefield I say that I have always sought to act in their best interests. My duty is to use my judgment to make their lives better. They did not elect me to make them poorer, destroy their jobs, and weaken their public services. As someone who has lived in Belgium and Italy, who has worked with entrepreneurs for seven years, and who has been an elected Labour public servant for the past 19 years, I judge that this vote will make people in Wakefield poorer, destroy jobs and businesses, remove social, consumer and environmental rights and reduce the tax base that funds our NHS, schools and services. History has its eyes on us today, so here is my answer: I can no more vote for this Bill than I can vote against my conscience. I cannot vote for it because it is against my values, and I can no more vote for it than I can vote against my own DNA.