This deal may well be preferable to a no deal outcome, but it is not a good deal and it does not deliver on the pledges the Prime Minister and his colleagues made to the British people.
I believe it is only fair that we should assess this Bill against what was promised during the referendum campaign and beyond, and not by the incredibly low bar Ministers now appear to have set themselves, of simply having avoided a no deal exit.
The full text of this deal was published less than a week ago. Trade experts and academics haven’t managed to get their heads round it yet, but the Government still expects us to vote on and pass this Bill into law. This is no way to legislate on something so incredibly important to our economy and our place in the world.
While much of the detail is not yet clear, one thing we do know for certain is that this so-called ‘free trade’ agreement actually increases barriers to trade for our businesses. They will – literally – pay the price for that, and I fear our brilliant manufacturers in the North East will be among the worst hit, despite their innovative and determined operations.
The feeble commitments on employment standards are also extremely troubling. There is little to prevent the weakening of employment rights previously derived from EU law, and who can doubt that a majority Conservative Government will be eager to take full advantage of that?
Achieving such a thin deal within the Government’s own ruinous red lines is nothing to celebrate. The deal could and should have been very different – we would never have allowed our entire services industries to be left out, or our security arrangements so weakened – but we are now one day from the end of the transition period and the choice we are presented with is this or nothing. It is clear the Government has the necessary votes to get this Bill through Parliament and I will not stand in its way, but I also cannot give it my positive support.
I hope however that today marks a defining moment in one of the most divisive and destructive political debates in my lifetime, one that saw families split, communities enraged, colleagues across the House subject to threats and intimidation, and the tragic murder of our colleague, Jo Cox.
As we move into this next chapter there is a lot to reflect on about how our politics is conducted. My sincere hope for us as a country is that, despite the challenging circumstances that lie ahead, we can see the value of truth, integrity and tolerance once again placed at the centre of our politics in a way they haven’t been over the last four years.