It’s no exaggeration to say the decision to leave the EU is the biggest event in my political life so far. I respect the decision to ‘Brexit’, taken by a narrow margin of those voting in the referendum last June. Across the UK, 52 per cent voted to ‘leave the European Union’, and leave it we will.
However, that’s just the start of the journey. The manner and timing of our departure from the EU is down to our parliament to decide. In our parliamentary democracy, that’s how we’ve always made the big decisions on our future. It’s not a black and white issue. We have choices.
We could leave the EU but remain part of the Single Market. After all, everything we heard before the referendum led me, and many others, to believe, whatever the outcome, we would remain in the Single Market. A huge 44 per cent of Britain’s exports go to the EU – £220bn out of £510bn – according to the Office for National Statistics. In the North West, exports to the EU are worth £11.6bn, or 47 per cent of the total.
We could leave the EU but remain in the Customs Union, so that goods can be imported and exported without delays and tariffs. It’s estimated that tariffs will cost our exporters £4.5bn a year. We could attempt to negotiate our departure from the EU in ways which actively protect British jobs, services and companies, using British influence built up over many decades.
I believe the Prime Minister ruled out a Brexit which safeguards our vital national economic interests in her speech at the Mansion House a couple of weeks ago. What she announced in January was that Brexit would mean a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit, with a withdrawal from the Single Market, and the European Economic Area, tearing up the trade deals we have with all of our partners and friends. If the Prime Minister thinks renegotiating all of these deals will be quick or easy, I would point out that the trade deal between the EU and Canada took seven years to agree.
As we learned this week Britain does not have enough trained and experienced trade negotiators. The Government has asked KPMG to find people willing to train our civil servants in negotiating trade deals. We may have to import negotiators from abroad.
Even now, seven months on from the referendum, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, told Civil Service World this week that we still have not recruited the 2,000 extra civil servants we need to handle Brexit. We only have 140 trained negotiators to establish trade deals with the EU, USA, India, China, Australia, Russia, the Republic of Ireland, and the rest of the world. Government departments have spent six years reducing the number of their staff, but are now recruiting staff to handle Brexit. What a farce.
When I visited Brussels before Christmas for a briefing on Brexit, I was struck by the incredible disadvantage Britain will be at, once trade talks start. We will be sending inexperienced teams to face some of the toughest negotiators in the world.
Some people voted to leave the EU to increase national sovereignty. My fear is that instead we will cede sovereignty to the corporate boardrooms of Beijing, Mumbai and New York. Decisions taken in China will have an impact in Childwall, and we will have no say over them.
We will become increasingly dependent on the goodwill of President Trump, who does not share our British values and instincts. One thing we know about Trump as a deal-maker is that he doesn’t take any prisoners.
Whilst I am a representative not a delegate, I am grateful to the hundreds of my constituents who have been in touch to share their views on the vote tonight. I have received a range of representations, with the clear majority advising me to vote against the motion. This reflects the majority view of those who voted in the referendum in Liverpool Wavertree. The votes were not counted on a constituency level, but one study by the University of East Anglia which has extrapolated the data suggests 64 per cent of the people in my constituency voted to remain in the EU. Across Liverpool, 58.2 per cent voted to remain in the EU.
As an MP, I have to consider the wishes of my constituents. I also have to consider the impact on local businesses where many of my constituents work. Many local Wavertree businesses export their goods and services to the rest of the EU. These are some of our most innovative, hi-tech and modern companies, and I fear for their future. Local jobs depend on our membership of the EU, including 350,000 jobs across the North West. Our local universities are set to lose research funding after Brexit, and lose the best students to universities around the world.
The Government has announced a ‘Great Repeal Act’ which will transfer nearly half a century of laws covering everything from air quality to maternity leave onto the UK statute book. Laws safeguarding our workplaces, our employment rights, our environment, the quality of our food and drink, our rights as consumers, laws governing animal welfare, and much else besides will be up for grabs. All of us, as citizens, workers, and consumers may find our proper protections weakened or revoked altogether without debate or scrutiny.
In Parliament I have pressed the Secretary of State for Health about one, relatively minor but important, consequence of Brexit: our membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently with its headquarters in the UK. The Health Secretary told the Health Select Committee that he ‘did not expect’ the UK to remain a member of the EMA, giving up before we’ve started the negotiations.
Already the medical experts who work there are starting to leave. The government of Sweden is bidding to relocate the agency to Stockholm.
We will lose an important chunk of a bio-science industry, and some top brains, but worse patients in the NHS will be at the back of the queue in accessing new medicines. The British pharmaceutical industry, worth over £30 billion a year to the UK economy, will suffer. This is just one example of the unintended and purely negative consequences of a hard Brexit.
The Government seems hell-bent on a precipitous and reckless Brexit, without proper parliamentary debate or safeguards. We have not even seen the Government’s Brexit white paper, setting out their approach, before we are called on to vote.
The vote in Parliament tonight will kick-start Brexit before Britain is ready. We’re careering towards the cliff without any brakes. Once the trigger is pulled, there is no turning back. Britain has a two-year window to extract itself from the EU, and when the time is up, we’re out, whether we’re ready or not. Theresa May has even said that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, meaning that we might leave the EU in 2019 without any trade deals in place. I believe that this is not in the national interest, nor in the interests of my local community.
Therefore, after much thought, discussion and deliberation, I am voting against triggering Article 50 now. I trust that even the most committed anti-Europeans will respect the fact that I am voting in what I believe to be both the interests of the people who send me to Parliament and the nation’s economic interests. People voted for Brexit, but Theresa May has no mandate to create a bargain basement Britain, and wreck the life chances of millions.