Have a look at the work I have been doing on Brexit in the European Parliament and across the North West; fighting for the best possible deal for people in the U.K.
Nine months after the referendum on June 23rd last year, Theresa May finally triggered Article 50, beginning the process of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. And now she has called a snap General Election.
Since the triggering of Article 50, your Labour MEPs have watched in deep dismay as this Conservative government abandoned any idea of retaining sincere and close links with our nearest neighbours, egged on by the Eurosceptic rump in their own party and dancing to the tune of UKIP who ironically now have no MP’s in Westminster.
Theresa May's iteration of 'European values' are hollow words at odds with her behaviour. She has shown more enthusiasm for clinching trade deals with brutal regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and holding hands with Donald Trump in Washington, in a sickening display of 'trade at any price' that demeans our country. Backed up by Boris Johnson's embarrassing behaviour as foreign secretary and Liam Fox's shameful support for the self-confessed killer, President Rodrogo Duterte of the Philippines, May heads up one of the most extreme right-wing war-mongering Conservative governments the British people have ever had to endure. Churchill, who envisioned a peaceful post-war union of European people working together for the common good, must be turning in his grave!
At home, before it has even started, we have already seen the cost of Brexit. I was sad to hear of the closure of the biscuit factory in Wigan with the loss of 100 much-needed jobs. The company could no longer pay the higher prices for raw materials imported from the EU, and this trend is set to continue as our economy reels from the uncertainty and capital flight provoked by Brexit, not to mention the exodus of EU nationals (many of whom are the backbone of our NHS) who no longer feel welcome post-referendum. I was one of two MEPs who signed a letter printed in The Independent on March 29th, condemning the Prime Minister's anti-migrant rhetoric and demanding that EU nationals should not be bargaining chips in any Brexit negotiations.
Every day I hear stories of businesses shutting up shop, or struggling to stay afloat. Large firms may seem more resilient but many are looking to relocate production elsewhere in the EU. This is true across virtually all sectors, but especially where collaboration, research and innovation are key, such as renewable energy, and the cultural and creative industries. The threat to our automotive and aerospace industries is also very present as parts are manufactured in many different EU states, each operating under the same harmonised rules and regulations. Outside of the EU there is no guarantee that British plants will be able to operate in such a seamless way, meaning more red tape not less, as we will have to negotiate 27 different sets of rules in order to maintain our manufacturing and trading links with individual Member States.
Small businesses are also feeling the pinch and as many of these are family-run there is a heightened risk that lost livelihoods will also mean losing one's home. Small businesses often rely on being part of a supply chain for large multi-nationals or conglomerates which is one of the reasons why it was so important for Labour to fight to retain the steel industry. The EU has taken action against Chinese steel dumping but our Tory government refused to play ball, so now the steel contracts for our new infrastructure projects are being outsourced to other countries, and our traditional steel-making communities are suffering acute deprivation.
All this has happened over the past year as Brexit became the defining moment in our history. But where do we go from here, especially as the clock is now ticking and experts are concerned that it may take a decade or more to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU after our departure in two years time. The government has produced a White Paper on The Great Repeal Bill which should raise alarm at the undemocratic nature of the sweeping powers it proposes to use, recalling archaic laws going back to the reign of the despotic Henry VIII.
Meanwhile in our most recent Strasbourg plenary session MEPs voted on a resolution setting the tone for negotiations between the EU and the UK and laying down some red lines. It should come as no surprise that membership of the single market is not possible without freedom of movement so a 'hard' and damaging Brexit now seems sadly inevitable. Indeed, Theresa May in her letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, states that the UK will not seek to remain in either the single market or the customs union. This presents enormous problems, especially in Northern Ireland where goods and people cross an invisible border many times a day, as part of a post-conflict solution brokered by the EU.
It should be noted that David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, publicly stated that we would get the same benefits outside the EU as we currently enjoy as a full member. This of course is fanciful as stated by all the key players in the EU institutions and by the other 27 Member States.
Labour's response to the Tories direction of travel is a 6 point test on the final deal based on promises made by Theresa May and prominent members of the LEAVE campaign. This is designed to hold the government to account and provide a framework for scrutiny. This week, Keir Starmer MP outlined the Labour Party’s promise to scrap the Great Repeal Bill and ensure the rights of all EU nationals living in the UK who are currently being used as bargaining chips. Labour will make sure that all EU-derived laws – including workplace laws, consumer rights and environmental protections – are fully protected without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses. You can read about Labour’s 10 pledges to transform Britain that will shape our election Manifesto here.
MEPs will get a vote on the final deal but you can rest assured that Labour MEPs will not vote for a deal that risks workers' rights (including health and safety at work) or weakens environmental protection. Over the past few days I participated in many International Workers Day events across the North West, celebrating the progress made on workers rights to date; we cannot see those reversed by a shambolic Tory Brexit.
On a personal level I will work hard to try and ensure that young people can continue to enjoy some of the positive benefits of EU membership, such as Erasmus+ projects that enable study visits abroad and cultural exchange. This programme benefits ALL young people even those with special needs as proved by students from the Together Trust's school for autistic children in Cheadle Hulme who are working with their European peers to develop self-confidence and employability - with excellent results.
As we begin the last two years of our 5 year mandate I remain committed to fighting the Tories version of Brexit. As a pro-European I seek to reassure our sister parties across the EU and beyond that will work with them in the fight for social justice at home and abroad, delivering on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, putting people before profit, and upholding human rights, freedom and democracy. It is for these reasons that I have decided to remain in the European Parliament until the end of the mandate to fight for the best possible deal for people in the UK and not stand in the upcoming general election. I will be out campaigning with Labour members across the North West and nationally - you can find out what campaigning is going on in your area here.
PS Please follow Chukka Umuna's excellent #VoteLeaveWatch campaign which aims to remind the Brexiteers' of their promise of £350 million per week for the NHS along with other lies and myths used to hoodwink a public thoroughly fed up of Tory austerity policies. Also see a list of campaigns you can get involved in:
Have a look at the work I have been doing on Brexit in the European Parliament and across the North West; fighting for the best possible deal for people in...