I had hoped to speak before Christmas. Given that there is not a scintilla of difference between what we have now and what we had then, I am unsure what has been achieved in the meantime. In bringing forward the vote in this way and at this point, the Government have continued the trend that was set in the run-up to and throughout the 2016 referendum campaign. People have talked about improving the tone of debate, but we got to this position through betrayal, deceit and lies writ large on a bus, and through corruption and criminality that is still under investigation.
Since the referendum, we have seen the Government squirm and battle against any and every attempt by the House to uphold its role and scrutinise plans, including by trying to deny us a vote at all by pulling it at the last minute in December. Now, they have made the “meaningful vote” meaningless by presenting a Hobson’s choice of this deal or no deal, both of which the public and employers alike oppose.
Sadly, I have already seen damage in my community since the referendum. I have even shown constituents around this place—most recently Aaron—who have been laid off as a consequence of the result. Southwark has a strong food and drink sector, and strong hotels and hospitality, universities, arts and creative industries, construction and architecture, finance and law, healthcare and public services. All those sectors have alerted me to problems, especially with the retention and recruitment of staff. Locally, not one sector or employer has said anything would get better if the Government won the vote on Tuesday. The Government’s own analysis shows the longer-term national damage that would be caused if Brexit went ahead, which would cost £100 billion.
I am proud to represent Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and I know I speak for local people, 73% of whom voted remain and an estimated 80% of whom now support remaining. I voted against triggering article 50, knowing I did so with the support of the vast majority of my constituents and of local party members, who, sadly, have often felt unrepresented by the national party.
Turning back to the Government, since the Prime Minister published her proposals, two constituents have been in touch to say they back them, and thousands have been in touch to say they oppose them and oppose Brexit. People are sick of the deceit, but it continues. There is the deceit that there is a deal. There is not—nothing is settled. Even if the Government won on Tuesday, the only certainty would be more uncertainty. There is the deceit that this is a meaningful vote, despite our not knowing what the deal will deliver or even when, if ever, it will finally be agreed. It could take years to finalise trade arrangements, with more employers moving investment, staff and assets outside the UK in the interim, as we have already seen, including in my constituency.
There was deceit in Brexiteers promising the “exact same benefits” of EU membership, which they have utterly failed to deliver. They now more openly admit opposing freedom of movement. They take pride in insulting the 11,000 people who live in, work in and contribute to my vibrant community but were born in other EU member states, whom they accuse of somehow jumping a queue. They also ignore the 100,000-plus other constituents I have who want the chance to live, work, study and holiday across the EU for free but now face losing out. UK citizens face a £300 million bill to continue travelling as they do to countries that are currently free to enter. And there was deceit in our being told that everything would be fully negotiated and other trade deals would be arranged ahead of our departure. It is not, and they have not been.
We need to inject honesty into this debate and be honest with the electorate. The UK has the most flexible membership package in the EU, with no Schengen membership, a rebate and no euro. The cost of our full membership, per capita and as a percentage of GDP, is among the lowest of all member states and less than some non-members, such as Norway, contribute for less control and fewer benefits. We must return to honest debate.
People are rightly fed up of the lies and deceit, including the idea that the Government’s arrangements uphold their commitment fully to protect the integrity of the UK. In fact, they put our country’s very future at risk and thoroughly undermine our international standing, with the empty rhetoric of “global Britain” pleasing only Putin and Trump, who have no interest in a strong and unified United Kingdom.
Finally, it is a fundamental falsehood, deceit and insult to present no deal as the only outcome if the Government are defeated. It is not. For years people were told that they could not have the things that they need: a police service able to investigate and solve crime, a national health service that did not involve 20-week waits for standard appointments, and a solution to the housing crisis. The Government’s response was that there was no money and no deal. Now they find billions to waste on the no-deal Brexit, while people still suffer “neglexit” on housing, policing and the NHS. With this fundamentally fraudulent claim, the Prime Minister is playing Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods and jobs. The UK can and should revoke article 50, and I urge the Government to take that approach.
“it is clearly in our national interest to remain” in the European Union, on economic and security grounds. Now she claims the exact opposite. The public see through that bluff, and the question that they are left with is this: what kind of leader attempts to downgrade their own country’s economy and security? My community was attacked in June 2017 at London Bridge and Borough market, and in no circumstances will I support the downgrading of security. Furthermore, what kind of leader throws away the country’s relationship with the strongest and wealthiest trade bloc on the planet, which covers half our trade and dominates vast swathes of our economy, especially services?
I was elected to this place in 2015 on a promise that I would never vote for anything that would harm my community. Brexit has done, can do, and will only do that. so I will keep my promise: I will oppose this limbo wish list, and support a new people’s vote. The truth is that we should all be bold enough to do our job. None of us were elected to downgrade our constituents’ prospects, to downgrade our country or its security, or to downgrade opportunities for the people whom we serve. We should all have the courage to end the deceit and dump this dismal downgrade.