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The decision that we make today will shape the future of our country for years to come. In making that decision, three issues weight most heavily on my mind.
The first is the potential risks that this deal poses to the future of the Union of the United Kingdom. We have heard many times that the deal explicitly separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with a border down the Irish sea and with Northern Ireland remaining part of the EU’s trading system—something that the Prime Minister promised he would never allow. I fear that these proposals would have knock-on implications for Scotland’s future relationship with the UK, too. I fear that the deal is an open goal for the Scottish National party in its bid for independence. We have heard the argument that Northern Ireland voted to remain and that they are still part of the EU, with frictionless trade, so why should Scotland not have that, too? I have always believed in the importance of unions—that we are stronger and have more power and control when we work together. I do not expect all Government Members to share that most fundamental of Labour beliefs, but, as members of the Conservative and Unionist party, I find it very hard to believe that they would vote for a deal that could put the future of our Union at risk.
The deal would also have potentially profound consequences for the future shape of our economy and public services, paving the way for the Government to take England, Scotland and Wales out of the single market and customs union—the hardest of all hard Brexits, short of no deal, with all the risks that that brings for manufacturing and services. Whatever the Prime Minister claims, there are no legal guarantees for workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental standards. They can deny it until they are blue in the face, but we remember that it was precisely in order to cut those rights and standards that Brexiteers argued for years that we should leave the EU, so they cannot convince us otherwise now. I wish Government Members would just be honest and say, “We believe that the future of the country is as a low-tax, small-state, deregulated country.” They have a perfect right to think that, but they should have the guts to put that vision of Britain to the British people.
Finally, on the implications for our democracy, I know that colleagues on both sides of the House understand the risks that this deal poses to the Union and to our economy, but believe that the risks to our democracy are even worse. However, the truth is that the deal is not what people were promised during the referendum, nor will it get Brexit done. Far from it: we will have years more of negotiations, with another cliff edge at the end of the transition. I do not doubt that many people will be angry if the deal is voted down tonight, but we must put it back to the British people so that they can decide whether this is the future for the country that they want.