North East needs Brexit answers

Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, has told the Government the North East needs answers – and quickly – on Brexit, if the region is to work together ‘to make the best of this mess’.

Speaking in Parliament during yesterday’s debate on an e-petition which called for a second EU referendum, Catherine also raised the concerns of the large number of constituents who have contacted her about the way the 23rd June referendum was conducted and what the outcome means for the region.   The e-petition was signed by over 4.1million people, including over 88,000 from the North East – and almost 5,250 from Newcastle North.

During her speech, Catherine urged the Government to ensure the North East’s voice is ‘heard as loudly as anyone else’s’ throughout the Brexit negotiation process, highlighting the importance of clarifying Britain’s future trading relationships for a region which consistently exports more than it imports, with 58% of North East exports currently going to the EU.

The Newcastle North MP also pressed the Minister to clarify the status of the £726million of EU funding due to be invested in the North East over the next five years, and the impact any loss of this will have on the region’s devolution deal – an issue she has raised previously with the former Prime Minister.  And Catherine criticised the Government’s failure to provide certainty on the future status of EU nationals based in the region, including the almost 1,000 NHS staff in the North East and 600 people working at Newcastle University.

Sharing concerns that many constituents have raised with her, Catherine backed the recent Electoral Reform Society proposal that an independent verification body must be set up for any future referendums, in light of high-profile claims made by Leave campaigners about the benefits of Britain leaving the EU, which the Newcastle North MP said yesterday were ‘either demonstrably untrue or simply impossible to commit to’ – including the pledge that an additional £350million a week would be available for the NHS.

She also used the debate to speak about ‘the highly divisive and unpleasant’ nature of the referendum campaign, commenting:

‘I fully acknowledge that feelings on Britain’s membership of the EU have run very high, for many years. However, to exploit those feelings and stir up bigotry against those who appear to be ‘different’ is unforgivable.

‘A Britain that seeks to divide people is not a Britain that I want my, or anyone else’s, children to grow up in, and I find it incredibly distressing that anyone should have been made to feel unwelcome – or worse – as a result of that process.’

The Newcastle North MP also strongly condemned the Government’s ‘failure to anticipate or plan for the outcome of the referendum’ – a situation which has left the country facing:

‘weeks, months and even years of prolonged uncertainty about what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ really means’.

Catherine concluded:

‘Until we have answers, we will not even know what Britain voted for in the referendum, and that is the crux of the matter.

‘Nobody who voted on 23rd June could possibly have known what life outside the EU would actually look like and, more than two months from the referendum, we are no closer to the truth.

‘The North East will work together to make the best of this mess, but to do so we need answers to all those questions and quickly.’

A full transcript of Catherine’s speech is available here.