It will come as no surprise to anyone, I am sure, to hear that I will not support the deal. I am determined to do everything I can to secure a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU and exit from Brexit. After all, that is what I was elected to do when I overturned a Tory majority of nearly 10,000 with the help of a progressive alliance of voters from across the entire political spectrum. I am still regularly stopped in the streets by constituents who just want an end to this mess. One lady said to me the other day, “I didn’t vote for this Brexit. Please make it stop!” Is not that the refrain we are hearing from everyone—“Make it stop”?
That is my issue with the deal. The Prime Minister’s deal has only 26 pages about what comes next. It will take years to get that right. Meanwhile, the fact that the air has been sucked out of this Government and the economy will continue to suffocate society. The very causes of Brexit—inequality, injustice, the incomprehension of parents that their children’s future will not be as bright as theirs—will continue to be ignored until this is over. We have to be honest with people: Brexit will not solve any of those issues.
There is only one way to make this stop, and that is a democratic exit from Brexit. Support for that, as much as many in this House are trying to ignore it, is growing. Poll after poll shows that the will of the people has changed since 2016. Add to that Russian interference, Cambridge Analytica, the leave campaign being fined for breaking electoral law and dodgy DUP donations, and is it any wonder that people are dismayed? Does that surprise us at all? In a democracy, as has been said, people should be able to change their mind. If they want to vote for this deal, let them, but if they want an exit from it and to keep the deal we already have, let them have that.
One group that Brexit affects more than anyone else is EU citizens in the UK. These people are our friends. They have built relationships and careers in this country. They deserve so much better than this shambles. Is it not shameful that they are being asked to pay £65 to continue to live in their own homes and stay in their jobs? Although I welcome the announcements of Oxford University and my local NHS trusts that they will pay the fee for their staff, it beggars belief that they even have to offer. How much public taxpayer money has been offered to overcome the charge? That suggests to me that the Government should scrap it now.
Furthermore, what of British citizens who live in the EU? We have to think of them too. Above all, this affects young people—people like my younger brother and sister, who both live in Berlin. One is a scientist and the other an artist. They grew up understanding that they would be able to seek jobs elsewhere. That is being snatched from them by leaving.
On our NHS, 21% of the nurses and health visitors in Oxfordshire are EU citizens. My constituent, Jill, emailed me to say:
“Nobody voted for Brexit to have fewer nurses on our wards, fewer doctors in our surgeries.”
We know from our trusts that that is already happening. I agree with Jill. We would be far better off staying in and welcoming those workers with open arms.
I have two universities in my constituency, at least partially: Oxford University and Oxford Brookes. Both have expressed serious concerns about the impact of Brexit. Stuart, a professor at one of those universities, emailed me to say:
“In this department, we have been advertising lecturing jobs for the first time since the Brexit referendum. We were hoping to attract a French mathematician to one of these jobs, but when we contacted her, she made it clear that it wasn’t even an option, because she didn’t want to leave the EU.”
Instead of feeling welcome in our university towns and cities, some of the most saleable people in the world are being put off. While Brexiteers may well have had enough of experts, Oxford West and Abingdon most certainly has not.
MPs across this House must now ask themselves if the deal brought forward by the Prime Minister is better than the deal we already have. If they vote for it, they have to be able to look each and every constituent in the eye and say that that is true, and if they cannot do so, they need to give them that choice. The EU has been utterly clear that this deal is the only deal on the table—let us not make that mistake—and it should be up to the people to decide whether or not they want to accept that deal.
We should recognise, however, that this is about much more than that. It is about Britain’s place in the world—our outlook and our identity as individuals and communities. I support a people’s vote because I support an open Britain that wants to engage with the world more, not one that closes itself off.