‘None of us wanted to jump out of the plane, but this is about whether to use a parachute or not’.
I am deeply saddened that we are having this debate today as I would much rather we were remaining in the European Union. I said in my maiden speech a year ago that Brexit is a monumental act of national self-harm, and I still think that it is.
In the election I very strongly campaigned to remain in the EU and I voted against Brexit in the vote last December. Now we can see the deal at last, there are so many ways in which staying in the EU would have been better.
However, staying in the EU is no longer an option and so the vote today is about whether we go ahead with a deal with the EU or not.
Thank you to the many constituents who have joined me in meetings and emailed me recently – over 900 people in the past 24 hours – to give me their very thoughtful and heartfelt views on the vote today. As many have said, ‘Brexit makes we weep’, ‘I loathe Brexit with every fibre’, ‘I am very, very sad’.
It has been very difficult for me to decide how to vote today as there is no good option, but this is the position that the Conservative Government have put us in.
I am voting for the deal.
I am voting for the deal today as this brings us the closest to cooperation with the EU and in the best place to negotiate for closer agreements. If we don’t agree this deal today, tomorrow we will crash out of the EU and face worse economic impacts, job losses, and our security would be threatened.
This is a choice between a thin, flawed and insufficient deal and the disaster of no deal, or as a constituent said – ‘none of us wanted to jump out of the plane, but this is about whether to use a parachute or not’.
In Putney, there is a sense of grief for many people at this further step on the Brexit road, but also a huge sigh of relief that we at least have a deal. Being left out in the cold of WTO-rules would have been a bleak place indeed.
I understand the views of many who do not want to support this deal and to protest against it by abstaining or voting against. However, the vast majority of responses from constituents support a vote for the deal, albeit – like me – with a heavy heart. So many have said ‘a thin deal is better than no deal’.
I have listened carefully to local businesses, many of whom have already been damaged by the years of uncertainty caused by Brexit, further damaged by COVID, and now this agreement coming on the last day before the deadline.
I feel that this is too important for a protest vote. Voting for the deal will not stop me being able to criticise and challenge the deal now and in the future. A deal is the best option for Putney constituents. I support the closest possible working relationship with the EU and I welcome the creation of institutions to support this – the Partnership Council and the Trade Partnership Committee and its associated sub-committees. I welcome the agreements on tariffs and quotas, on stability in Northern Ireland, on security and intelligence sharing, and the agreement on research.
Businesses are already facing supply chain and cash flow pressures in the current market, and January‘s new border operations will bring about further shocks with the additional pressures of tariffs if we crashed out.
A bad deal
I am under no illusions about this deal and will not hold back in criticism of it. This deal is a poor shadow of what we had as members of the European Union. There is also so much unknown. It was hailed by the Conservatives as ‘the easiest deal in history’ and ‘oven ready’ – that wasn’t credible then and it isn’t now.
There is loss of influence as a country, no longer having a voice in one of the biggest trading blocs in the world, the loss of freedom of movement, reduction in benefits of security, research, cultural freedoms, of frictionless trade, work and study with our neighbours, the chaos, delays with shipments of goods, unnecessary expense to ordinary people, time wasted filling in forms, job losses, GDP reduction, limitations on travel and on inward and outward migration, and now far less transparent decision making by the new institutions.
I am also concerned that this deal puts hard-won workers’ rights on the line. Like the TUC, I want to see the Prime Minister get going on the promise to ‘protect and enhance rights’ by bringing forward the long-awaited Employment Bill including a pledge to end zero-hours contracts, and give guarantees that no existing rights will be watered down or fall behind, now or in the future, and that workers’ rights in the UK will be at least as good as those in the EU.
So much has been made of fisheries – but what of financial services? This is a huge area we need urgent agreement on. A large proportion of jobs in Wandsworth are in the Services sector so the uncertainty is very damaging. A deal is at least foundation for a future supplementary agreement and this must be a priority.
Culturally this is a very bad deal for so many musicians and people in creative industries who rely on touring. As one constituent said to me: ‘We have plenty of talent in the UK but it thrives on connection with international performers and audiences so if this is curtailed another vital part of the UK economy and culture will be damaged’. The red tape will be disastrous, and I am calling today for a creative visa to enable touring and for a creative taskforce to be established to negotiate a supplementary agreement that enables musicians to tour.
The decision by this Government to end participation in the excellent Erasmus scheme is a major mistake and I will push hard for the Government to U-turn on this.
I will vote for this deal with a very heavy heart today as we need this deal to go ahead and because I want the closest cooperation with Europe. Brexit has been divisive locally, nationally and internationally, but we must now come together as a country, and today’s vote is the start.
I will be pushing for ever closer alignment with the EU, for financial services agreements, for more security agreements and for the Government to make good on their promises on workers rights and environmental standards.
I will be scrutinising this deal and future negotiations, and today’s vote will not diminish me joining with other Labour MPs in criticism of it and standing up for local businesses, for European residents and all constituents.
I know that many people just want Brexit to be over, but the reality is that this deal is just the start of years of future negotiations and reviews and I will be an active part of this process, always listening to constituents in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields and standing up for them at every step of the way.