On the 31st January, MP for Sedgefield Phil Wilson spoke in the Brexit debate in Parliament.
I campaigned passionately during last year’s referendum for Britain to remain in the EU and still feel passionately about it. I remain deeply concerned about the outcome and what is to follow, but the British people voted to leave. As strongly as I hold my views, it is only right that the wishes of the majority of the British people should be respected, because the real decision to trigger article 50 is not taken tomorrow night—it was taken on 23 June 2016.
It is fair to say that although the referendum question asked voters whether they wanted to remain in or leave the EU, it did not detail what “leave” actually meant. That argument still needs to be thoroughly addressed. Simply to say that out means out is not a policy—the issue is far too complicated for that. The result of last year’s referendum did not point to the door through which we should exit. There are many doors and exit strategies to consider. If those who voted to leave did so to “take back control”, then surely it should be Parliament that decides through which door we should leave.
There are many questions to answer. What is to be the final article 50 deal? What will a future free trade agreement between the EU and the UK look like? What will be the consequences for jobs? Will the assurances given to Nissan also be given to other sectors of the economy? What will our relationship be with the customs union? There are questions around workers’ and consumer rights, as well as the environment and, of course, immigration. I would like to see an agreement that reforms free movement and allows tariff-free and unimpeded access to the single market, with a transitional arrangement, if necessary—as it probably will be—to prevent our economy from falling off a cliff edge. Even the International Trade Secretary has said that he wants
“at least as free a trading environment as we have today.”
The Prime Minister has said she wants to give companies
“maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market”.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that people did not vote “to become poorer”. I want this House to hold them to this.
If there is one thing that the result of the referendum proved, it is that we need a new settlement on free movement, but it must be balanced with what is best for the economy. To have a lasting settlement, there should be a Europe-wide agreement. Pulling down the shutters on the rest of Europe is not the answer. People did not vote to have fewer rights at work, yet I see that the Prime Minister has committed to those rights only while she is in power. I can understand that, but what happens next? I do not want to see a race to the bottom. I want the people I represent to be protected against future challenges, of which there will be many. There is a mandate for Britain’s exit from the EU, but there is no mandate on the manner in which we leave. That is why the Government must come to this House to inform Parliament of their progress throughout the negotiations, and we must be given a vote on the final deal. We should also be given an impact assessment of the effect of the deal on the economy, its sectors, and this country’s future.
As the Prime Minister searches for trade deals that we cannot start negotiating formally until we have left the EU, she should consider the manner in which she proceeds. The Prime Minister knows the dilemma this country is in, but she must consider her demeanour. She shows too much haste, especially in securing a state visit for the President of the United States seven days into his presidency when President Reagan waited 17 months to visit the UK. It was not even a state visit, and we all know how close President Reagan was to Margaret Thatcher. All this reveals that the Prime Minister’s haste is undue. Some say that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations would be a risky agreement between the US, representing 350 million consumers, and the EU of 28 countries, representing half a billion. Wait until we see what is on offer from President Trump, who puts “America first”, when he knows he is negotiating with one country of 65 million people that is desperate for a deal. I do not believe that this fact will have been lost on the arch-dealmaker himself. If the Prime Minister is prepared to walk away from the EU because
“no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, will she walk away from a trade deal with the US on the same basis? The Government want to see us as a great global trading nation, and I do as well. So to avoid us standing on the street corner, cap in hand, I would not walk away from the EU without a deal being struck. Without a deal, I would stay at the negotiating table until I got one—walking away is not an option.
I know that my voting to trigger article 50 may come as a disappointment to some of my constituents, while others may believe that leaving the EU is the correct course. The debate in the House of Commons over the next two weeks will be the start of the process, not the end. I reserve judgment as to my future voting intentions. We need to get what follows right. As much as I do not like the result of the EU referendum, neither can I ignore it. I will therefore continue to exercise my duty in good faith, with the wellbeing of my constituents and the country at the forefront of the decisions I make. I quote the Secretary of State for Brexit:
“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”