European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 10:35 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 10:35 pm, 14th January 2019

Despite significant inward investment in our area, my constituency voted to leave in 2016, and I respect that result. We know that membership of the European Union has been and continues to be a deeply divisive issue, dividing communities, political parties—some more than others—and even families. We also know that the EU referendum was an attempt by some to try to settle a division within the Tory party—something that has obviously backfired spectacularly.

Brexit has become the main focus of our Parliament and our country. In many ways, that is as it should be, because it is the most important issue of our time. It is something that will impact on this generation and the generation to follow—another reason why 16 and 17-year-olds should have been given the chance to vote in 2016. However, I am sure that I am not alone in finding it incredibly frustrating that we cannot focus as much attention as we should on the many other important issues of the day.

I, along with many other hon. Members, voted to trigger article 50 to allow the Prime Minister to start negotiations on a deal to honour the result of the referendum. The deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated does not do that. As we are aware, the current deal has succeeded in uniting leavers and remainers in opposition to it. Indeed, only 6% of constituents who have contacted me since 1 December support the Prime Minister’s deal. The deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated does not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards. It will not ensure frictionless trade for UK businesses and provides no certainty about our future relationship. It provides no guarantee that the UK will continue equivalent arrangements with key EU programmes and agencies, and the Government’s own economic analysis shows that the deal will make the country poorer, with GDP falling by around 3.9% and every region of the UK being worse off.

I know that if that is the case, poorer areas of our country and communities such as mine will fare worse still. I cannot vote to support a deal that will do that to the people I represent. These are not just people I represent; they are my family, my friends, people I have grown up with and local businesses that serve the communities I have grown up in. I cannot vote to inflict greater pain and hardship.

I first got involved in politics as a 14-year-old during the miners’ strike in 1984. The reason I did was that I witnessed an uncaring Government rip the heart out of my community and many others around me, and I could not stand back and do nothing. The Tory Government then destroyed whole industries and left many workers on the scrap heap because they had no plan B. History does repeat itself if we do not learn the lessons of the past. It is clear that the Tories have learnt absolutely nothing from the damage that they did in the 1980s and ’90s or the damage that their austerity has done over the past eight years.

I fully acknowledge that people in my constituency voted to leave, and many still believe that leave is the best option. There are many others I have also spoken to, including individuals, small business owners and community groups, who have deep concern about the unfolding Brexit situation. EU citizens who have made my constituency their home face uncertainty, and students face uncertainty over programmes such as Erasmus+. If we get this wrong, our country will live with the consequences for decades to come.

I will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal. I will also continue to vote against any attempt to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal, as I believe that this would prove a disaster for our country and for the people of my constituency. When the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated, I hope that she will listen to Parliament, come back and try to remedy what she has done. If she cannot or will not do that, she should step aside and make way for a general election.