I voted remain in 2016, because I felt it was better for Britain to belong to an alliance of democracies. However, in my heart I felt that the EU was both undemocratic and bureaucratic. I understood why people wanted to take back control and the pressures that ordinary people face in their daily lives, particularly with the cost of living. It was clear to me after the referendum that the public had had enough. My constituency voted 68% to leave and I made it very clear to the residents of Harlow that I would do all I could to ensure that their wishes on Brexit were followed through. That is why I am strongly opposed to a second referendum, which would divide the country once again and disenfranchise the 17 million people who voted to leave. It would potentially cause political unrest and extremism, as many who voted to leave would feel that their wishes had been ignored.
I do not for a moment believe that the people were not informed or were too stupid. Far from it. In fact, it was us politicians who were the foolish ones for not listening to the anguish of many working class communities over many years, with people struggling with the cost of living and the pressure on our public services, and doing the right thing by working hard yet facing obstacle after obstacle in their daily lives. My view is that any withdrawal agreement needs to follow the wishes of the British people.
The problem for me with the Prime Minister’s deal is this: how do I go back to my community of Harlow and say we do not have money for our libraries, hospital and community groups, but we can give £39 billion of hard-earned taxpayers’ money to the EU without even getting a trade deal at the end of it? When the House of Lords said there was no obligation to pay the £39 billion, should the Government not at least have published a cost-benefit analysis of the money we would have to give to the EU under the withdrawal agreement? We are tied to EU structures via the transition and the backstop, a spaghetti junction of EU bureaucracy that could potentially be infinite. I have never rebelled against this Prime Minister in this Parliament, but I will be voting against the deal tonight for those reasons. It would create two different regimes for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and that has the potential to weaken our Union.
We are in this spaghetti junction without a voice, a vote or a veto. That is why I am trying, with Lucy Powell, to offer an alternative with a common market 2.0. A common market would take back control by removing us from the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, taking back control of our fish and our farms. It would take us out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and offer us a break on freedom of movement, but safeguard jobs, communities, business and our economy.