I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. In fact, I received it yesterday when she made an appeal entitled, “Seeking common ground in Parliament”. Where did she make that appeal? Not in Parliament, but in a small room just down the road.
It is now clear: the bold new deal that the Prime Minister promised is little more than a repackaged version of her three times rejected deal. The rhetoric may have changed, but the deal has not. I thank the Prime Minister for her letter, but it offers no change on a customs union, no change on single market alignment, and no dynamic alignment on environmental protections. This Government are too weak, too divided, to get this country out of the mess that they have created. For more than two years, the Prime Minister bullishly refused to consult the public or Parliament.
She did not seek a compromise until after she had missed her own deadline to leave, and by the time she finally did, she had lost the authority to deliver. That became evident during the six weeks of cross-party talks that ended last week—talks that were entered into constructively on both sides to see if a compromise was possible.
But while those talks were going on, Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister made statements undermining what their colleagues in the room were offering. The Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House, the International Trade Secretary and the Treasury Chief Secretary all made it clear that they would not tolerate a deal that included a customs union, while Tory leadership contender after Tory leadership contender took it in turns to make it absolutely clear that any compromise deal would not be honoured. Therefore, no matter what the Prime Minister offers, it is clear that no compromise would survive the upcoming Tory leadership contest. The multiple leaks reported from the Cabinet yesterday show that the Prime Minister could not even get the compromise deal she wanted through her own Cabinet, and it is clear that the shrunken offer that emerged satisfied no one—not her own Back Benchers, not the Democratic Unionist party and not the Official Opposition either. No Labour MP can vote for a deal on the promise of a Prime Minister who only has days left in her job.
Even if the Prime Minister could honour her promises, the deal she is putting before us does not represent a genuine compromise. Her 10-point plan is riddled with contradiction and wishful thinking. First, the Prime Minister pretends she is delivering something new with a temporary customs union. This is not a compromise— it is just accepting the reality. Under the withdrawal agreement, we will already be in a temporary customs union through the transition period, which can last up to four years, and if not, we will enter the backstop, which, in effect, keeps us in a customs union, too, without any say.
Secondly, why would this House legislate for a plan that has already been comprehensively rejected by the European Union? The Government want to align with the European Union on goods to keep frictionless trade, but they also want to pursue trade deals that would undermine this process. It is simply not compatible. The technology they need to continue to pursue their Chequers plan simply does not exist. It has already been ruled out by the EU as illegal, impractical and an invitation to fraud. The Government have failed to provide any economic analysis to show that this would make us better off. Why would the House support such a chaotic and desperate approach?
Labour set out a sensible compromise plan over a year ago, including a comprehensive and permanent customs union with the EU that gives us a say, which would allow us to strike trade deals as part of the world’s biggest trading bloc, bringing investment, while maintaining the highest standards. It is credible and achievable, and the best way to protect industry, manufacturing and jobs—something that this Government are woefully indifferent to, as the latest crisis in the steel industry shows today. The Government must be prepared to step in and take a public stake to save thousands of high-skilled jobs at British Steel—a foundation industry for any major economy. Instead, the Tory obsession is for striking trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump. They prioritise chlorinated chicken, further NHS privatisation and deregulation over protecting supply chains and jobs in this country.
On workers’ rights, we have yet to see the full package the Government intend to bring forward, but many people in the trade union movement remain very sceptical. As Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress said yesterday:
“This reheated Brexit deal won’t protect people’s jobs and rights.”
On environmental protections, it is clear that the Prime Minister is not offering dynamic alignment and that under her proposals the UK would fall behind in a number of areas, with only a toothless regulator under the control of the Environment Secretary in place of binding international commitments to protect our environment.
Finally, on a confirmatory vote, I am sure that nobody here will be fooled by what the Prime Minister is offering. Will she tell us now, if this offer is genuine: will she give her party a free vote on this issue or will she, as before, whip against a confirmatory referendum? If the Government truly believe this is the best deal for the economy and for jobs, they should not fear putting that to the people.
For too long, our politics has been seen through a prism of leave or remain. This is dividing our society and poisoning our democracy. It means that vital issues are being neglected—the crisis in our schools and hospitals, the housing crisis and the cruelty of social security policy and universal credit. Our country needs leadership to bring us together. However, this Prime Minister is not the person to do that. Throughout the last three years, she has made no attempt to unite the country. She has been focused only on keeping her divided party together—and it has not worked. Her time has now run out. She no longer has the authority to offer a compromise and cannot deliver. That is why it is time for a general election to break the Brexit deadlock and give the country a say.