I will start by taking some time to reflect on the issues that I heard about in 2016, and have continued to hear about since, while representing a seat that voted substantially to leave the EU. I completely understand the valid and sincere reasons why people on both sides voted how they did. Our area, once the beating heart of Britain’s industrial empire, has seen 30 years of deindustrialisation and rising unemployment, with our youth unemployment now two and a half times the national average. Many towns, including Leigh, as my hon. Friend Jo Platt just so articulately described, feel a sense of being left behind, of anger, of loss and of betrayal. Just six months before the referendum, our steelworks was closed by this Government, with 3,100 jobs lost overnight. So, when people were asked back then, “Are you happy with the status quo, or do you want things to change? Do you want to make Redcar, Teesside or Britain great again?”, of course they were going to vote out of anger and frustration. They were going to vote to take back control when they were told that the blame for our troubles lies in Brussels.
However, it was not the EU that closed our steelworks. The Government had no qualms about state aid when they stepped in to take a stake in the Port Talbot works just a few months later. The EU did not drive down our industry and manufacturing in favour of an economy based on the financial and services sectors. The EU did not take £6 billion out of public spending in the north in the past eight years, and it did not give us zero-hours contracts, a low-pay economy, austerity and food banks. However, many in my patch at that time simply said, “What’s to lose? It can’t get any worse.” The facts are clear now in a way that they were not in 2016, as there is plenty to lose and, as always, it is people in work in areas such as mine who stand to lose the most again.
The Government’s impact assessment showed that the economy of the north-east will be hit to the tune of 16%. That is not just a “Project Fear” figure; that means real jobs and real wage packets. That will mean homes repossessed, businesses going under, and personal tragedies like we saw in 2015 after the closure of the steelworks. There is no way in which I or anyone in this place who claims to want the best for their constituents should even be contemplating a no-deal Brexit, although we see the Prime Minister wielding it as a threat to steamroller her failed deal, which is reckless and irresponsible.
I want to take a moment to focus on a sector that remains a huge international asset in our area. The chemicals industry employs around 7,600 people in Teesside. We have the second biggest chemical cluster in Europe and the biggest in the UK, and it is heavily integrated with supply chains that span the English channel. Companies such as Huntsman process chemicals in Redcar and send them to Rotterdam for the next stage of processing. If there are any costs or delays, companies will just shift their entire processing operations to Europe, taking jobs with them. Chemicals cannot be stockpiled, and any delay is deeply damaging. However, it is not just a no-deal Brexit that would jeopardise that precious industry. The chief executive of the North East of England Process Industry Cluster told me that while the Prime Minister’s deal is better than no deal, any kind of Brexit will leave the crucial industry worse off.
The Government have already made one industrial site in my constituency a wasteland, and I am not prepared to risk a second when we are working so hard to get back on our feet. I cannot accept the Prime Minister’s deal, which is a historic and unprecedented concession of sovereign control. It leaves us in a weak negotiating position internationally, £50 billion worse off, and no clearer on our future relationship with Europe. The Chancellor himself told us that it will make Britain poorer. If it is not what people voted for, why on earth are we putting ourselves through this pain? We must now extend or revoke article 50 and go back to the people—this time with the truth and a picture of what the reality of Brexit actually is.
To those who say that they just want this over and done with, I am afraid to say that the Prime Minister’s deal will be just the beginning. We will be bogged down in negotiations for a decade, with a slow haemorrhaging of our power and wealth. To those who say another vote is a betrayal, I am afraid to say that the betrayal has already happened. The betrayal happened in 2016: when people were promised something that could not be done, and when they were promised £350 million a week for the NHS, the exact same benefits as being in the EU and the easiest deal in history. When a promise cannot be kept, everything that follows from it is a betrayal, and we need to face up to that and be honest.
To those who say there is a better deal yet to be negotiated, I am afraid to say there is no other deal. There is no jobs-first Brexit or sensible Brexit. This deal is Brexit. This is all there is and, after two and a half years, the public can see it is a disaster. They know it has gone horribly wrong and they do not like where we are headed. It is disrespectful to say that they have to be bound by a decision they made two years ago when they know that this is not what they were promised. They do not like the mess we are in and, like me, they do not recognise the Britain we are becoming.
Our Britain is not insular, fearful, jealous, selfish, pompous or cruel. It does not look backwards to a world that never was or blame other people for our failings. Our Britain is decent, kind and compassionate, but firm and fair. Our Britain is confident in its values and of its place in the world. It respects other nations and actively wants to stand alongside our friends, partners and neighbours. This Britain wants to have its say. I have absolute faith in the British people to find a way through where the Government and Parliament have failed. We must put this back in the people’s hands.