Today I voted for the trade deal agreed between government and the EU. Just as I always do when I have to make a difficult decision, I want to explain why I voted as I did.
Last year when government had no majority in the Commons, MPs grabbed control of House business and passed a law which forced government to extend EU membership if it wasn’t able to agree a deal. It’s important to remember this because whenever I’ve voted against a deal in the past there has always been a safety net for the moment it fails.
After the general election, government used its majority to leave the EU almost immediately and committed to leaving the Customs Union and Single Market at the end of December. The safety net was gone.
The deal that was agreed on Christmas Eve was one that falls way short of what I believe is fit for our country. In fact, it excludes any business delivering a service which accounts for 80% of economic activity in Britain. For those sectors that are covered, life won’t be exactly the same either. It’ll be more challenging as our economy will be saddled with £7bn worth of paperwork and costly red tape in order to trade with countries inside the Single Market.
But there is a simple fact: even this poor deal is better than nothing and because the safety net has gone if we defeated the deal today then tomorrow we would leave with nothing and our country would be plunged into damaging chaos. Be in no doubt, Johnson and Gove wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving without a deal tomorrow, half their party would have loved it. The danger was real.
Whenever I face a tough decision in this job I always ask myself a simple question: what’s best for the community I represent? Without hesitation, having this deal as our starting point is better than no-deal, even if it’s not the deal I wanted or fought for.
So the next question becomes, do I vote for it or abstain? The really important thing about this question is that both deliver the same outcome – both allow the bill to pass through parliament unobstructed.
Some people have contacted me saying ‘government have a majority, they don’t need your votes’. I understand this, but it’s difficult for me. Not once since I’ve been an MP have I voted for one outcome but secretly hoped for another. If I believe in my heart that this deal is better than the alternative then I owe it to you to vote for it and have an honest discussion with you about it and explain myself.
Imagine if I were writing now ‘I think a deal is better than no-deal but I voted against it’, what would you think of me! How would I look you in the eye!
I’ve spent the last four years fighting against no-deal with all my energy and conviction. If I had opposed the deal today I would have been voting for the very thing I think is worst for our country.
There is an argument to be made for abstention and I have thought a lot about it in recent days. But the truth is I’m not neutral, I know that even this deal is better than nothing and it was more honest of me to vote as I did.
In recent years I have got to know a lot of people working for EU governments, based both here in London and on the continent. In the last week I was in touch with many of them to gauge their views. Without exception every one implored or begged me to vote for the deal and under no circumstances try to block it. They were very clear with me. EU countries have had enough. They’ve had enough of Boris Johnson and his games and that’s something we can all sympathise with them about! The EU and our allies don’t want no-deal and they are angered by the thought of more negotiation.
This is Boris Johnson’s deal. He campaigned for it, set the red lines, negotiated, and brought it to parliament. He now owns it and he owns it’s consequences.
We have already left the EU. I tried to prevent it but failed. Tomorrow we leave the Customs Union and Single Market. From there our country will adapt to the new reality of life outside of the EU and we will be making a lot of decisions about our future direction as a country.
I remain a passionate pro-European internationalist. Now, like many of you, I need to figure out how to be pro-European in a post-Brexit world. It’s daunting but after the rancour or recent years and the acrimony of recent days, I am energised to be thinking again about the future and I am going to be spending a lot of time figuring out how we build on this deal to form new partnerships with the EU to deliver new opportunities for our country and it’s people. Its also a time to look afresh at our other global partnerships a show we as a country can invest in them to deliver a more prosperous, safer and sustainable world than today.
For me this can only be achieved if Labour can defeat the Tories because the Tories currently running our country simply don’t care about things unless there’s direct benefit them. But these are debates for another time.