There can be no doubt that this is a defining moment in our history. Our global economic and political success is at stake. I represent a constituency that voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union and I stand here today to make this speech on their behalf. Although the European Union is not perfect, it is a union that has helped to bring so much peace and prosperity to our nation and to our continent. To dismiss our 45 years of membership diminishes what we have collectively achieved and what is possible.
Turning to the theme of today’s debate, we should not forget the benefits that EU membership has brought to the country through immigration. Could our economy or our NHS thrive without it? Of course not. In England, 63,000 NHS staff are EU nationals—one third of these staff work in London. Across the capital, almost half of the home- building workforce is from the EU, yet over the course of the referendum and subsequent negotiations, I have frequently been saddened by the fact that freedom of movement has become a political football spoken of only in negative terms.
A few weeks ago, when I was speaking at a public meeting in my constituency, a constituent, an EU national, stood up and told me that she had made her life here and now feared that she was no longer welcome in this country. I assured her that she was welcome. Like many others, I am immensely proud of our multicultural community in south-east London, but the Government have provided nothing but uncertainty on this issue. It is irrefutable that immigration has aided our nation and our continent. We should be proud of what it has contributed and what it has helped us to achieve.
Let me now speak of my personal experience. As a teenager, I was given the opportunity to live and study in Italy through the European Union’s Leonardo da Vinci programme. Growing up in south-east London and attending my local school, the idea of being offered, at the age of 18, the chance to temporarily move to Italy was almost incomprehensible. It was a completely life-changing experience, and I consider myself to be a citizen of the European Union. I want my son and all young people to have the same opportunities that I have had to live, work and travel freely within the EU. Instead, young people will be denied the chances of upward social mobility and co-existing with our European partners, compounded by an uncertain future of potential economic gloom as a result of this poorly negotiated deal.
When the withdrawal Bill was before the House this time last year, I tabled an amendment highlighting the work that Europe had done on family-friendly employment rights and gender equality. If my amendment, which lost by 14 votes, had passed, it would have ensured that Parliament was kept informed of changes in European law, making sure that we kept pace and did not fall behind on the equalities agenda. Rights in the workplace have been fought for long and hard, and a large number of employment rights on our statute book come from Europe, including rules on paid holiday, working hours, pregnancy and maternity rights, TUPE and age discrimination, to name but a few. Sadly, some Conservative Members would not think twice about tearing them up, and the workplace risks becoming even more precarious and insecure without EU safeguards.
I respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum, but nobody in the House could argue that things have not changed in that time. The political landscape has changed. The economic landscape has changed. Public opinion has changed. All the while, the Government are trying to force through answers to questions that were not on the ballot paper in 2016, and expect constituents to follow blindly.
When I was elected to Parliament, I vowed to my constituents that I would not support any form of Brexit that would be detrimental to them. London voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union, and by a factor of two to one in Lewisham West and Penge. As my constituents’ representative and voice in this place, it is primarily their future that I consider when casting my vote on this motion.
This terrible deal would result in a miserable Brexit for the UK, threatening business confidence, jobs, our NHS and the future of young people. The biggest issues will remain unresolved while we follow rules over which will no longer have any influence. I say to those on the Government Benches that these negotiations have been flawed from start to finish, and the results of this catastrophic approach are apparent for all to see. With time still left before the end of March, this does not have to be a binary choice between the Government’s deal and no deal.
I do not believe that anyone voted in the referendum to be worse off or less secure. The people should be given a voice again. They should be empowered to decide whether they want their future to be carved out by the Prime Minister’s deal, on which even her own MPs cannot unite, or whether they want an alternative. Given the shambles of the deal now before us, surely it is now time for the decision to go back to the public, with a people’s vote with an option to remain in the EU. With so much at stake—our prosperity, our success and our security—it is only right that we return the decision to the people and give them their say once more.