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Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 5:53 pm, 27th February 2019

This House has witnessed months and months of obfuscation and delay by the Government. At best, that has illustrated the sheer incompetence of their handling of the Brexit negotiations, and at worst, it has demonstrated a wilful attempt to force MPs to choose between two wholly unacceptable outcomes. However, the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday was a step in the right direction, allowing MPs a vote on delaying the UK’s departure from the EU, or ruling out a no-deal Brexit if we reject her deal next month, demonstrating a positive shift in direction. It was the first time that we had had a concession on the Government’s famous red lines. It was an overdue but welcome recognition of the role that Parliament should play in determining the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

Yesterday during the Prime Minister’s statement, I asked her whether she could tell me how much Brexit is costing. Of course, she could not, which I was rather surprised by. The cost to the public purse of £500 million a week is an absolute slap in the face to those who voted to leave on the basis of a £350 million lie on the side of a bus. There is also the cost of the £39 billion divorce bill.

The cost that we will all pay in jobs as companies shift, leave or take their operations to European cities will be immense. Dame Caroline Spelman and my hon. Friend Jack Dromey held an excellent series of meetings, where we heard at first hand about the impact of businesses moving abroad and the effect on the workforce. I fear that the steady stream of jobs moving across the channel will become a torrent if we do not grip this crisis.

There will be a cost to small and medium-sized businesses as supply chains are disrupted. For factory workers, their zero-hours contracts could become zero contracts. Then there is the cost to consumers as they face the prospect of new charges appearing for their goods, and other increased costs, including for insurance and mobile phone roaming charges. For our young people, their ability to travel freely—to live, study and work abroad at the drop of a hat—will now be inflicted with a whole lot more bureaucracy and planning.

There is also the cost to our environment. I was pleased to put my name to amendment (e), which lays out best practice for the environment, because we are at risk of leaving the gold standard for the environment set by the EU. Does everyone remember when beaches were too dirty to swim at? Well, now they are clean, and parks that were too dirty to play in now have a green flag. It all originates with key areas of excellence in the European Union’s environmental protections.

I was pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer saying that the current border arrangements between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are a physical manifestation of the peace settlement, which was so hard fought for over centuries, culminating in 1998. What a terrific achievement of the then Labour Government, and what an obligation on each of us in this House to uphold that important agreement.

The European Union project is grounded in that common cause for peace, recognising that by pooling our efforts we will not weaken the UK’s standing in the world but rather embolden it. As we marked the centenary of the Armistice of the great war last November, we remembered the horrors of the 20th century. Those horrors could come again; this world is so unpredictable. Now is not the time to be stepping back from our European friends and neighbours, and splintering over borders and customs. No—we should be stepping up and joining together to tackle the issues that face us.