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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 10:00 pm, 13th March 2017

As has been spelled out by my hon. Friend Geraint Davies, the economy has shrunk by 15% since June, and that cannot be ignored. Labour Members did not talk about economic cliff edges, but we did talk about the impact that leaving the European Union would have, and that has, of course, escalated, with the Prime Minister’s call to leave the single market and the customs union now weighing heavily on our economy. The pound fell to £1.14 against the euro and £1.22 against the dollar this weekend, and it is down 12% against the euro and 20% against the dollar since June, showing just how fragile our economy is—it is not an economy in recovery. And before someone pipes up about how well FTSE 100 companies are faring, I would remind them that that is due to the strength of the trade in dollars, not sterling.

All of that means that our nation is poorer, so the lack of attention in the Budget to building economic resilience was really quite astounding. I believe everyone voted last June with a legitimate aim: to see a better country. They put their trust in this sovereign Parliament to deliver that, but they are being badly let down. Half the country voted to achieve that aim by staying in the EU, and half voted to achieve it by leaving the EU, but no one talked about leaving the single market or the customs union. Of course, that is now impacting, with the increase in food and fuel prices really hitting the people in our constituencies on the front line—the consumers—who can least afford it. No one voted to become poorer, but people will have £21 less a week to spend as a result of the Government’s economic failing, with wages dropping below the level before 2007 and the economic crash.

Businesses in my constituency are also seriously challenged, even with the tweaking of our business rates, because the extortionate, over-inflated rents they pay on their properties are pushing up business rates. The sticking plasters do not go far enough to address these issues.

This is not a story of economic recovery. As we look at the £1.5 trillion of personal debt burdening people across our country, and at the national debt of £1.7 trillion, we no longer hear those calls from the Government Benches about confidence in the long-term economic plan, because we have long-term economic incompetence, and the eerie silence is echoing not just in this Chamber but throughout our land.

My concern is this: the Prime Minister has made her decision—hers alone—about what future we will have. We will be pulling out of the single market and the customs union—a hard Brexit, not a people’s Brexit—and that is destabilising our economy further. When we reach the end of this period of negotiation, and we judge the Prime Minister against her Lancaster House objectives, I think we all know what the truth will be: she will have failed.

What did not come forward in the Budget? There was nothing on how the Government are going to mitigate economic risks such as the loss of jobs, businesses going overseas, the fall in the pound and the shrinking of our public services. When will the Government seriously say, “Stop. We have had enough. We need to put people’s interests and the economy at the forefront of these negotiations”? We need to shift the negotiation priorities to stabilise the market, recognise the benefit of the single market—I will be the first to say it should be reformed—and make sure we are part of the customs union.

Economic competence is about showing that risk can be mitigated and managed—something the Chancellor failed to do last week. Before triggering article 50, I trust that the Government, perhaps even in their response today, will set out how they will respond to that risk.