Saturday 19 October 2019 / 2:22 PM Brexit / Rebecca Long Bailey

Rebecca Long Bailey’s closing statement in the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement

Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Business, Industrial and Energy Secretary, closing the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons, said:


I want to thank all the Members of this house for all the contributions today.


Today is a historic day. It is a day on which nearly 650 people sat here now will agonise over whether they are about to make the right choice for their communities, industries and future generations.


Of course, as on this side of the house, many rightly respect the result of the referendum, upholding the democratic mandate they were given by the people of Britain.


But today they ask themselves: is what is before us today truly a deal representing the ‘positive economic outcome’ their communities were promised in 2016?


Sadly, the simple and irreconcilable truth is that it does not. The Government’s current Brexit proposals do not address the concerns raised across this house over the last two years.


Today’s plans are worse than the previous Prime Minister’s deal and would lead to a race to the bottom on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections.


And as the Shadow Secretary of State responsible for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I want to make it clear to this house: If agreed this deal would be a disaster for this country, and we must reject it.


Mr Speaker on workers’ rights, we simply cannot trust what the Prime Minister is saying. They say this deal protects workers. Yet, instead of strengthening protections, they have specifically changed the legally binding withdrawal agreement to remove any commitments on workers’ rights.


And I think it tells us something that not a single trade union in this country – not a single one – backs this deal. The TUC say, and I quote: “This would be a disaster for working people”. Unison has said “It would risk every workplace right and leave public services exposed and vulnerable”, while Unite says: “by further diluting the legal protections for labour and environmental standards, the Prime Minister has made the laws that underpin workers’ rights and public safety extremely vulnerable in future trade deals.”


I could go on. But we should also look at the business case. What does this deal mean? Put it simply, for business, for our industry and our manufacturing, it reduces access to the market of our biggest trade partner, threatening jobs up and down our country at a time when more investment is needed, not less. There is no economic impact assessment and no accompanying legal advice – funny that, I wonder why?


Because according to the Guardian, Britain is on course to sacrifice as much as £130bn in lost GDP growth over the next 15 years if the Brexit deal goes ahead, according to government figures, that’s equivalent to people being £2,250 poorer per head.


Industry has been clear: it needs that market access and it needs a customs union to keep vital supply chains free flowing. Yet this deal sells them out. No barrier free access, no customs union. Instead it puts the fantasy of chasing damaging trade deals with Donald Trump over the needs of our country.


You don’t have to take my word for it. Make UK, who represent British manufacturing, is clear: “commitments to the closest possible trading relationship in goods have gone” and that this deal ”will add cost and bureaucracy and our companies will face a lack of clarity inhibiting investment and planning.” Even the CBI has said: “The deal remains inadequate on services” and that they now have “serious concerns about the direction of the future UK-EU relationship.” This is a bad deal for industry, a bad deal for manufacturing and more importantly a bad deal for jobs.


Let’s look at what this deal will mean for the environment. Let’s see what green groups are saying about it. GreenerUK for instance – has raised huge concerns saying “environmental safeguards are absent from the new Withdrawal Agreement” and that the toothless Environment Bill put forward by the Government, and I quote, “provides neither an enforcement body with independence, nor a commitment to non-regression in domestic law.”


All at a time when we are facing a climate crisis across the world, this is simply not acceptable. This government is asking us to simply trust them on all these issues, quite tellingly, without setting out any detail or legislation today.


The Prime Minister says nobody in his government wants to reduce rights or standards in this country. Well, this is a remarkable statement, especially when you look at their track record.


How can we trust them? How can we trust the Secretary State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy when she has made clear that for small businesses, she envisages there being, and I quote, “no regulation whatsoever – no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights”?


How can we trust the Foreign Secretary, who wrote a pamphlet wrote a pamphlet called “Escaping the Straight Jacket”, which outlined his plans to cut workers’ rights and regulations?


And how can we trust the Prime Minister himself, who has said the UK should “scrap the social chapter” and has claimed the current “weight of employment regulation” is “back-breaking”.


The answer is we can’t. If their intentions were to maintain current standards, why have they slashed every level playing field commitment in the Withdrawal Agreement?


We are about to make history, and in the final moments before we enter those lobbies MPs will consider the weight placed upon their shoulders. Is this deal the right choice for their communities, industries and future generations?


Sadly it isn’t.


Agreeing to this deal doesn’t get Brexit done. Instead it would sell out our country and sell out our communities, leaving us open to an onslaught of deregulation and reduction of rights that would put jobs at risk. And it is something no Labour MP nor any other MP worried about protecting their community could ever support.