European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 11:29 pm on 14th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 11:29 pm, 14th January 2019

When people in Ilford North and throughout the country voted to leave, they did so for many reasons, but always with the promise and expectation of something better. So when this House votes tomorrow, there is only one question that we should ask of ourselves and the Government: will this deal leave us better off than the deal that we enjoy today?

It is abundantly clear that the promises made by the leave campaign cannot be kept. That campaign was never honest about the choices, compromises and trade-offs involved in leaving the most sophisticated political and economic alliance that the world has ever seen. The hubris of that campaign was astonishing, with claims of only upsides, not downsides; that we would hold all the cards and could choose the path we wanted; and that this would be the easiest trade deal in human history. Well, political gravity came to bite just as quickly as leading leavers left the Cabinet, faster than rats fleeing a sinking ship.

The Prime Minister claims that this is the best deal on offer. She tells us it is a better deal than any other third country enjoys with the European Union. She may be right, but what she cannot say is that this deal will make us better off than we would otherwise be as a member of the European Union. Every single analysis suggests that we will be worse off than we are today. This is not what people voted for, which is why a constituency as divided on Brexit as mine is overwhelmingly united against the Prime Minister’s deal.

It is time to stop pretending that there is a better deal to be had at this eleventh hour, and it is time for the Prime Minister to stop threatening Parliament and the people with the catastrophic consequences of no deal and to stop squandering billions of pounds on a prospect that she admits would bring catastrophe and ruin to this country, even as our public services are creaking and crumbling as a result of the cuts inflicted by her and her predecessors. It is reckless, irresponsible and beneath the office of Prime Minister.

It is also time for my own party to face up to some hard choices. There is no better Brexit. There is no jobs-first Brexit. There is not a Labour Brexit. Whichever way our party turns, we risk upsetting some of our voters. I do not envy the position in which the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Cabinet find themselves, but with our Parliament and our country still divided, the Labour party has a responsibility to lead, not simply follow, events. So let us speak now with clarity and conviction: our internationalist party has never believed that our country would be stronger, safer or better off outside the European Union. The bitterness and division that we have seen in recent weeks, months and years is only a taste of things to come as we face the prospect of years, if not decades, of wrangling about the future relationship that we may or may not have with the European Union. People throughout the country are demanding bigger answers on the housing crisis, on the national health service, on the future of our education system and on the future shape of the economy—an economy in which everyone genuinely has a stake, not just the privileged few.

The no deal demanded by the most hard-line leavers does not have the support of this House, and it would leave the poorest paying the heaviest price. It would be a painful Brexit. Although I respect those arguing at this late stage for a closer relationship through the single market or the customs union, that would be Brexit in name only, and it would not heal the divisions, either. It would be a most pointless Brexit.

I say particularly to Conservative Members who are cowed by constituency association chairmen what Winston Churchill said:

“What is the use of Parliament if it is not the place where true statements can be brought before the people?”

We were lied to. The promises that were made cannot be kept and will not be kept. It is time to put this issue back to the people. Let them decide between our future outside the European Union, now that they know what that looks like, and a people’s vote to remain. I know which one I would choose, and I know which one I want my party to back.