Hull is full of hard-working, patriotic people. It is an outward-looking port city that trades with Europe every day. In 2016, over 60% of the city voted to leave the EU. The people voted for many different reasons, but the one that I heard the most was the feeling that our country could do better outside the EU, taking back control of immigration and much else. How could it be any worse? We have lower than national average life expectancy, lower wages, lower investment in transport and infrastructure, but higher unemployment and fewer opportunities.
As the shadow Chancellor said in his opening remarks, Hull people felt and feel ignored and left behind, so the leave campaign’s promises were attractive. Why not vote for £350 million pounds a week extra for our NHS, the promised billions for our ailing railways or a renewed fishing industry? My near neighbour and a former Brexit secretary, Mr Davis, promised:
“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside.”
However, having a simplistic binary choice in a referendum for determining our relationship with a complicated and complex set of institutions has resulted in confusion. Although my constituents voted to leave the EU, there is little clarity about what they voted for, but all of them voted on the basis that they and their families would be better off.
As a democrat, I therefore voted to trigger article 50, but the preparations to leave the EU—or lack of them—and the conduct of the negotiations have been wholly the responsibility of the Government. While so much was made of the role of this sovereign Westminster Parliament, the Government have fought every step of the way against Parliament having a meaningful say on this most important issue. The Prime Minister has boxed this country and herself in by setting a rigid timetable and red lines on the single market and customs union. I cannot support the deal before us today because I sincerely believe that it will not ensure that my constituents’ lives will get better—they will get worse—nor give us back real control.
The vast majority of Hull North voters who have contacted me about the Brexit deal want me to vote against it, including most leave voters. A decade after the global banking crisis and the years of resulting austerity, we now face the real danger of destabilising our economy for years ahead. The promises made to my constituents about how straightforward it was going to be have not lived up to the reality, and the Government have largely spent the past two years negotiating with themselves.
The Prime Minister described the political declaration as a “set of instructions” to those negotiating after we leave. Surely that is the weakest position to negotiate from. Specifically, there is no agreement on frictionless trade, which is vital to a port like Hull. The promised fishing deal has not been done. On security, there is no agreement to remain part of the European arrest warrant or to retain access to the EU criminal databases after 2020. Pharmaceutical companies have concerns about access to drugs, and UK students have concerns about studying in Europe. There are concerns about visa-free travel, about university and NHS recruitment and about access to research.
We are being sold a pig in a poke. Corrosive uncertainty will continue for years, and we will not be better off. We have more years of negotiating deals and, under this agreement, we will be taking rules from the EU. Rather than being boxed in, Parliament now needs to look at all the options. We have stood alone as a country before, but our country has survived and thrived by building alliances around the world, and this deal does not do that.