The European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

I wanted to explain my reasons for today’s vote on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, which puts the agreements on trade and security between the UK Government and the EU – aka the ‘Brexit deal’ – into UK law.

I can confirm that I voted to abstain on the Brexit deal in Parliament today, having given the matter much thought. I am a proud European and was elected to represent Sheffield Hallam on a manifesto that pledged a second referendum. Sadly, with Labour defeated in the general election, we had to accept the UK leaving the EU last January. Given this outcome, my priorities as your MP have been to avoid a catastrophic ‘No Deal’ rift with the EU, while pressing for a close and constructive relationship with the EU.

Unfortunately, for the reasons I outline below, both the content of the deal and the manner in which the Government has brought it forward have been deeply troubling. Therefore I neither wanted to put my name, or that of Sheffield Hallam, to Boris’s disastrous deal, nor to vote against when the last-minute nature of the vote left no realistic way to negotiate an alternative deal and avoid a ‘No Deal’ exit.

Content Withdrawal Deal

While the contents of the withdrawal deal have been described as ‘thin’, it’s probably clearer to say that the hefty document has a narrow focus and makes limited commitments. It is pretty much a bare-bones post-Brexit agreement that leaves huge uncertainty. On the other hand, the changes agreed will have a major impact on Sheffield Hallam constituents with barely any time to prepare.

For the economy, workers rights, the environment, education and industries this deal falls well short. It is likely to lead to economic deregulation and further privatisation of our public services.

From creative industries, financial services, our universities to agriculture, many sectors have not been adequately protected in this deal, but there are also risks in the future trade deals the UK Government will seek to negotiate.

This is very “Hard Brexit”, it is one that has gained support of the most ardent Brexiteers’, which will be incredibly damaging.

Role of Parliament

Many Brexiteers claim to be motivated by the need to ‘restore Parliamentary sovereignty’. Yet from the day he became PM, Boris Johnson has sought to bully and marginalise MPs in order to push his Brexit deal through. From the illegal suspension of Parliament last year to this Christmas’s last-minute deal, Boris and his supporters have no interest in allowing elected representatives to scrutinise their plans. It’s deplorable that Parliament has been given so little time to debate the bill, but also has been restricted in its options: the combination of the law Boris passed earlier in the year to prevent Parliament from requesting an extension to the transition period and the lateness of the deal mean that at least some period of ‘No Deal’ Brexit would be the likeliest outcome had Parliament rejected the deal. For all these reasons, I could not put my name to a deal that is bad for Sheffield Hallam, nor could I vote against and imply I would accept a ‘No Deal’ outcome.

It is also worth noting that the Government has shown stubbornness in pursuing negotiations while the coronavirus pandemic has raged. It would have been sensible to have sought an extension of the transition period so that the full impact of the coronavirus could be ascertained, and the resources of government concentrated on the biggest public health emergency in over a century (and by some counts, the biggest economic crash in three centuries). Instead, as I said above, the Government’s move to outlaw a transition extension made their priorities clear.

The Future UK-EU relationship

I have spent much of the past year scrutinising various bills which set out the Government’s intentions on post-EU environment, immigration and trade policy. Ministers presented each bill with warm words, but included dangerous delegations that would allow them to vary the policy substantially without reference back to Parliament. I really fear that this means the Government plans the sort of UK-US trade deal that hard-right Brexiteers dream of, doing immense damage to our manufacturing and agriculture. If you read the Government’s legislative agenda carefully their intentions are quite clear.

I am concerned that this deal only takes us to 2024 and more damage could come at that point. I will hold the government to account on any pain that is inflicted on my constituents.

Finally, I do respect that fellow Labour MPs and the Labour Leadership came to different conclusions. We are all united in believing this to be a bad deal, and I do believe they were acting in good faith in seeking to avoid a “No Deal” Brexit by voting for the legislation enabling a deal. For all the reasons I have outlined, however, I simply could not put my name to the deal and chose to abstain.

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