European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 7:12 pm, 14th January 2019

I will not give way as I am moving to my conclusion.

A new customs union in which the UK would be able to reject any agreement it believed was concluded to its disadvantage—however advantageous it might be for the 27 EU member states—is a vital way of securing the open trade border, avoiding the problems of the backstop and respecting the referendum mantra of taking back control. It should have been part of our negotiating mandate from the beginning.

So often it has seemed, on both sides of the Brexit divide, that the point of listening has been to prepare one’s counter-arguments and rebut what the other person is saying, rather than any genuine attempt to understand their fears and concerns, so I want to conclude by sharing with colleagues my own fears and concerns about the position we are in. It seems to me that we are caught between two competing and equally important principles: our responsibility to protect the economic wellbeing and livelihoods of our constituents; and our democratic responsibility to accept the result of a referendum where we promised to respect the result. The first principle is often invoked by colleagues who say, “Nobody voted to make themselves poorer or put themselves out of a job,” and that is true. The second principle is often invoked by colleagues who say that we will damage our democracy and increase cynicism about politics if we turn round and pat the electorate on the head and basically say “There, there! You didn’t understand. You were lied to. We will give you another chance to see it our way.”

I have found myself genuinely torn apart by these competing claims, as I know many colleagues have. It seems to me that it is simply not good enough to insist either that we remain or that we leave no matter the cost. Both these positions are absolutes, and while we may campaign in black and white, we must govern in shades of grey. Each absolute side of the debate must be able to have a credible explanation for the roughly 50% of their fellow citizens who profoundly disagree with them as to why they should not be taken into account.

I know what I promised my constituents at the last general election. It is right here in our manifesto:

“Labour accepts the referendum result”— not that we would respect it, but that we would accept it.

“We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’
rights and environmental standards, provide certainty to EU nationals and give a meaningful role to Parliament throughout negotiations.”

That is the rejoinder to those who pretend that our Brexit position has not been clear. It has been there, consistent and unchanged in black and white, since the general election. That is what this Government should have done; it is what we—[Interruption.] That is what this Government should have done; it is what we would have done and what a new Government now need to do.

And one thing more. We said that we would

“seek to unite the country around a Brexit deal that works for every community in Britain.”

The Prime Minister’s deal does not, and that is why Parliament must reject it.