It is an honour to follow Mark Pawsey. Like many other Members, I have been contacted by hundreds of constituents in the last few weeks about the meaningful vote. The vast majority of those people, whether they voted to leave the EU or remain, have asked me to represent them by voting against the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, as they all agree on one thing: this is a bad deal.
I voted to remain in the EU because, among other things, my region is a net gainer from the EU, and our economy is heavily dependent on trade with Europe. However, 59.5% of voters in my constituency wanted to leave, and across the whole borough, which incorporates the Tynemouth constituency, 53.7% voted for Brexit. I was shocked and disappointed by the result, both locally and nationally, but I accepted it as a democratic result.
I know that the vast majority of voters I spoke to before and after the referendum all held very sincere views, whichever way they decided to vote. A number of voters in North Tyneside said that they voted to leave so that we could take back control of our borders, laws and finances, but during the referendum campaign, many voters on both sides told me of their concern about immigration and freedom of movement. Many realised the absolute need for EU workers across all roles in our economy in the north-east, including on our farms and even in the abattoir in my community. However, on the other side, there was grave local concern, because in recent years a number of employers have taken advantage of the fact that they could employ EU workers on short-term contracts directly through employment agencies based outside the UK, undercutting the going rates of pay and bypassing local skilled workers in the process. I challenged those procedures with the employers, as they were fair neither to the EU workers, who were being cheated of pay, nor to our local workforce, who desperately needed these jobs.
Leave voters could not be swayed by the argument made by or to me on behalf of many businesses—large and small, each important to our local economy in creating work directly and via the supply chain—that the uncertainty of Brexit threatens their businesses and the local economy. It is estimated that 140,000 jobs in our region depend on trade with the EU. The North East England chamber of commerce has pointed out that the EU remains the region’s top export market, worth 57.5% of overall trade, or £1.8 billion, compared with 40% nationally.
The chamber’s third quarterly economic survey results for last year reported less international trade activity and cited Brexit uncertainty as the key reason, which resulted in a 6.75% downturn on the quarter and 0.35% on the year. The chamber’s survey for the last quarter of 2018 highlighted that, while scores for growth in domestic sales and a rebound in exports showed business performance and confidence improving towards the end of the year,
“uncertainties and concerns surrounding Brexit, chiefly expressed in terms of future market conditions, demand shocks and increased costs are dampening many businesses’
It is a sad reflection that this deal goes nowhere to meeting Labour’s six tests, does not protect jobs, workers’ rights or environmental standards and gives no certainty of frictionless trade to our businesses. My constituents, whether leavers or remainers, have made it clear that this deal does not meet their hopes and expectations for our region’s future. I want the best for the people of North Tyneside and for the whole of the UK. I will support the views of my constituents and of those on my Front Bench and will therefore vote against this deal.