Debate on EU Withdrawal Agreement

Catherine spoke shortly after midnight during the first day of the five-day debate that will be held in the Commons on the EU Withdrawal Agreement. You can read her speech below, or watch it online here. Earlier in the proceedings, she challenged the Prime Minister to put the Withdrawal Agreement back to the British public via a People’s Vote – which you can watch here. 

Catherine McKinnell:  The importance of this debate and the votes that might follow cannot be overestimated. They are significant not just to those avidly following every twist and turn of this debate – and good morning to those who might be still watching – but to those who are fed up of discussing Brexit, and even more so to our children, young people and future generations.

So it is no wonder that I have been inundated with emails and correspondence from constituents, some asking me to vote against the agreement because it does not deliver the Brexit they feel they were promised and who believe a no-deal outcome would be preferable. I do not share that analysis. Due to the projected dire impact of a no-deal Brexit on almost every aspect of our everyday lives, I am not clear how any Member of Parliament could even consider that to be an option. I also refuse to hold such low ambitions for our country and future generations of being able just to ‘survive’ the next few years, if not decades – or however long it is that the hard Brexiteers now state it will take us to start feeling the benefits of leaving the EU.

I know the economy was not the only driving factor behind the vote in June 2016, but all the Parliamentary sovereignty in the world will not make up for rising unemployment, reduced living standards, falling productivity and lost opportunities, not least in regions such as the North East, which has been thrown on the economic scrapheap too many times before.

A small number of constituents have asked me to vote in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement, as they believe it is the best offer available to us after the Prime Minister’s efforts, and they are understandably concerned about the prospect of crashing out of the EU given the Government’s insistence that those are the only two options before us. I recognise that the Prime Minister has had an impossible task in trying to deliver on the totally unachievable set of pledges made by others, but that is no reason for her to continue ploughing on regardless, given what is at stake for our country.

I simply do not accept that we face a binary choice between this deal and no deal at all, because it is increasingly clear that driving off the cliff is not an ​inevitability. Parliament can stop the bus before we drive over the edge. Parliament is sovereign.

That view is shared by the overwhelming majority of the large number of constituents who have asked me to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement next week, and to continue to work to ensure that the final decision on how we proceed as a country is put back to the British public via a People’s Vote.

That is the approach I intend to take.

I cannot support this agreement because it is a fudge, and serves only to emphasise that negotiating an arrangement better than or equivalent to the one we already have, as members of the EU, just cannot be done – despite the bombastic pledges of the former Brexit Secretary that he would deliver “the exact same benefits” of our current membership.

We are giving up those benefits for an agreement that the Government admit will leave every nation and region of the UK poorer. We must have the only Prime Minister and Chancellor in living memory who actively pursue a policy they know will damage the economy of their own country. There will of course be no ‘Brexit dividend’, and therefore no additional funding for our public services. Meanwhile, we will be subject to EU rules with no say over how they are made in future – so much for “taking back control”.

The Withdrawal Agreement also fails to deal with several pivotal issues, such as the Northern Ireland border.

Crucially for thousands of businesses in the North East, and the hundreds of thousands of good, skilled jobs they provide, it offers absolutely no certainty about our future relationship with the EU, nor the frictionless trade and easy access to European markets that our manufacturing and services firms require.

Members are being asked by the Prime Minister to vote for a blindfold Brexit, with no idea of what happens beyond the transition, while also being subjected to the most ridiculous peddling of misinformation by the Government, desperately trying to persuade us all that this fudge is what the country really wants. As I said to the Prime Minister earlier in the debate, if the Government are so convinced that the Withdrawal Agreement is what the country wants, why not go back to the British public and ask them if they support it, instead of resorting to propaganda campaigns?

This is not about trying to rerun the 2016 referendum; it is about asking people to confirm, now that a Brexit deal is on the table, whether it is what they want for their country, their economy and their families. Or would they prefer to remain in the EU on the terms that we already have?

It is evident that there is no majority in the House for the Prime Minister’s deal, or for a no-deal outcome. After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the most constructive, democratic and realistic way out of this deadlock is to put the issue back to those who started the process in 2016 to make the decision on how we proceed. We should give the decision back to the people in a People’s Vote.