European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 12:08 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 12:08 pm, 14th January 2019

Like all colleagues, I have been inundated with emails from my constituents about the withdrawal agreement vote in December and the one coming up later today. For those who worry that MPs do not read their emails, I would just say: Chris from Scartho wants to remain; Pete on the Willows wants a closer deal than is offered by the current deal; I hear that Sue in Yarborough wants a clean break regardless of Northern Ireland, jobs or wages being impacted; and Christopher in the same area is telling me that I should reject this calamitous Chequers betrayal and we should just leave. I hear all those views. I hear the 70% of the people in my borough who voted to leave. I understand that, but just 11 of all the emails I have received tell me to back the Prime Minister’s deal.

I would like to touch on two specific issues and why I am disappointed by the Prime Minister’s approach with her parliamentary colleagues. On Friday, I wrote to her asking why, less than a week before her vote on the withdrawal agreement, she was apparently considering accepting an amendment that asserted an increase in assurances over workers’ rights. That consideration tells me that her agreement fails to protect people’s rights at work. In that letter, I pointed out that I gave her the opportunity two years ago to quell any fears or concerns that colleagues might have about reductions in protections for workers by adopting a Bill I had put forward. At that time, I was repeatedly and patronisingly told by Government Members that I did not need to worry, because domestic rights are greater than those in the EU and apparently the Tories are the party of and for workers. That is quickly to forget their voting against the introduction of the national minimum wage, their retrograde trade union legislation, the Beecroft report, which proposed being able to fire staff for any reason whatever, and the introduction of tribunal fees, which saw a 70% drop in employment claims.

People might see those practical examples alongside some of the comments the Prime Minister’s colleagues have made about wanting a bonfire of red tape or about workers’ rights being unsustainable or a burden. That would cause anyone to question how she could have the brass neck to suggest that her party is one for ordinary working people, let alone one to trust once the protection of overarching, worker-friendly EU legislation is removed.

Despite the best intentions of my colleagues with their proposed amendment, I fail to see how a passing reference of just a few lines can substitute for the detailed considerations and fully worked out suggestions of the full Bill that was put forward. If the Prime Minister is genuinely committed to the protections, how is it that not one person from her Government has ever sought to discuss any of those principles with me or Labour Front Benchers? It has taken until this week for her to go and talk to the TUC and the major trade unions.

I have said to my constituents that the deal is a vague, worst-of-both-worlds Brexit that satisfies neither leave nor remain supporters. Worse than that, it fails to convince people like me, who despite campaigning for remain have said that they will respect the outcome of the referendum and are committed to getting the best possible deal for our constituents, protecting jobs, job opportunities and their rights. For my constituents in Grimsby, part of that is about seeking support for fish processing. When I last asked the Chancellor about his discussions with Norway and Iceland, he was incredibly dismissive and talked about the UK becoming an independent coastal state and failed to answer questions around the trading relationships that Norway and Iceland have, which will impact on their ability to have any kind of free negotiations with us. We will be listening from the other side of the door when they are negotiating, waiting to see what kind of scraps will be thrown to us through the transition phase.