Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
Thanks to all of you who have been in touch with me about the forthcoming vote in the House of Commons on the Prime Minister’s Brexit agreement with the European Union.
I campaigned to remain in the EU, but I respect the referendum result. I will, however, be voting against the deal on 11th December because it completely fails to give us clarity and certainty about our future economic relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partners – the rest of the EU.
Like many people, I was looking for a clear direction, so we know where we are heading. Instead we have vague language in the political declaration which is not legally binding. Why does this lack of clarity matter? Because businesses and the people who work in them need certainty about how trade will work in future, what access there will be to EU markets for our services industries (which make up 80% of our economy) and what workers’ rights and environmental protections there will be. What about co-operation between our police forces and security services that helps to keep us safe? Will students from low-income families here in the UK still be able to undertake exchanges and will we still be part of European scientific research programmes in which British universities have been very successful in winning funding? Will Britain’s broadcasters – one of our great success stories as a country – still be able to broadcast their programmes to other European countries in the way that they do now? Will we still have a single system for approving new medicines? Will we still get emergency medical treatment if we travel to Europe on holiday? How will we work in future with our neighbours on foreign policy, defence and the fight against terrorism?
These are all perfectly reasonable questions for us to ask about what will happen after we leave, but the problem is we have no idea what the answers are. And as I said to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on 26 November, by putting off decisions now about the choices we will eventually have to make, the Government has put the country in a weak position because any future deal with the EU will require the unanimous approval of all of the other member states.
It is also not the case that there are only two possible alternatives now, namely agreeing the Prime Minister‘s deal or leaving the EU with no deal (which would be a disaster for the country). There is an alternative of a much closer economic relationship with the EU and I support joining the European Economic Area (EEA) – like Norway and Iceland which are not members of the EU – while remaining in a customs union as this would solve the problem of the border in Northern Ireland and maintain friction-free trade which is so important to many businesses. The only reason why a different approach has not been proposed is because the Government’s ‘red lines’ have boxed the Prime Minister in and left her with nothing to offer except her profoundly unsatisfactory deal.
Now is the time for all of us to be honest with each other about the choices and the trade-offs that we have to make as a nation on this very important decision which will have profound consequences for our future. We need to find a way of bringing together a divided country by acknowledging that not everyone will be happy with a final deal and all of us are going to have to compromise.
Therefore, if the deal is voted down by Parliament, I hope the Government will change its approach so that a new plan can win support. If the Government does not do this and if Parliament is deadlocked then, unless there is general election, all options should remain on the table including the possibility of a People’s Vote to make the final decision.