This article by Catherine and her six North East Labour colleagues Phil Wilson, Bridget Phillipson, Paul Williams, Anna Turley, Julie Elliott and Alex Cunningham was originally published in the Northern Echo.
We finally now know what Brexit actually is. After a referendum campaign of wild promises and untruths, and two-and-a-half years of indecision, Brexit is now no longer a vague concept that sits in the eye of the beholder, but is the agreement that Theresa May has brought back from Brussels.
Brexit has finally been born, and it belongs to her. But if it passes, the consequences for working people and their families will be felt for decades to come.
The Withdrawal Agreement is not a “good deal”, in fact it’s barely a deal at all.
It will not please those in the North-East who voted to leave because they were angered by 30 years of industrial decline, and rising inequality and insecurity.
Nor will it please those who voted on the basis of sovereignty and taking back control as it cedes power and influence and Britain becomes a rule-taker without any say. There will be no £350m a week for the NHS after we have paid £50bn for the privilege of this disaster.
It also fails to deal with the significant issue of the Northern Ireland border, simply storing it up for another day.
We completely understand the desire, particularly those in the business community, just to wish this were all over. They are not alone. But approving the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament will not mean the end. It will just be the beginning.
A fudged and inconclusive “deal” that has tried to please everyone will not restore business confidence in Britain, which has already seen a 19 per cent decline in overseas investment since 2016. It will see a gradual, yet steady decline in our economic strength and our global power, as we walk away from the top table. An act of unforgivable economic and political self-harm.
So by voting it down, what are our alternatives? Theresa May is keen to talk up the prospect of leaving with no deal, but it is clear that the consequences of this would be so catastrophic for jobs, businesses, access to medicines and food, and so many other incalculable aspects of our lives that no politician other than the most hardened handful of Brexiteers would contemplate that.
Others believe that the “deal” can be renegotiated by someone other than Theresa May – either a different leader or a different party, after a general election. But anyone from any side who thinks we have the time or the latitude to go back to the EU and renegotiate before the end of March is not facing up to reality.
The Labour Party’s alternative is to vote the “deal” down and seek a general election. But to achieve a general election requires two-thirds of MPs in Parliament to vote down the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Tories are not turkeys and they will not vote for Christmas. It is highly unlikely that this option is feasible.
So all that remains is a simple choice which should be put to the public – do they want this deal or not? This is the Brexit that is available.
No member of parliament could honestly say that her deal is what people voted for in 2016, not least because no one knew exactly what Brexit was.
In that vote a myriad of angers, resentments, hopes and aspirations were projected onto a basic question which could not be interpreted. No one will be able to seek a better interpretation of what people were voting for back then. Theresa May has done her best, but the challenge was an impossible one.
Real-life, actual Brexit now exists. It is no longer a dream in the eye of the beholders. Time for the people to decide if it’s really what they want.