The below Brexit update was sent via email on 18th October 2019:
Welcome to my 36th Brexit update, if you have contacted me recently about Brexit via an online campaign or otherwise please accept this update as a response. I have tried to cover a lot of the questions that have been posed.
Boris Johnson has just returned from Brussels with a new Brexit withdrawal agreement. This update will examine the content of that, tomorrow’s Saturday sitting in parliament and what happens next.
To make it clear I will not be supporting this deal as it is much worse than the Theresa May’s agreement and opens up the space for the Prime Minister to deliver a no deal. I will allow it to pass parliament, however, only if a confirmatory public vote is attached to it with the option to remain. That is the compromise.
Let me explain my reasoning and try to dispel some of the rumours that have been created over the last couple of days. You can watch my immediate reaction here.
What is in the “deal”?
The important thing to remember is that the withdrawal agreement is 95% the same as Theresa May’s withdrawal agreements. On citizens’ rights, dispute settlement, institutional oversight, the transition, Gibraltar, Cyprus and the financial settlement the withdrawal agreement is completely unchanged.
All the changes to the deal agreed by the new Prime Minister are around the much-discussed Northern Ireland backstop. The previous backstop agreed by Theresa May, which was acclaimed as a diplomatic coup at the time, was designed to keep the whole of the UK (inc Northern Ireland) in the same customs territory as the EU, if there was a failure to secure a deal by the end of the transition period at the end of 2020. The latest agreement is basically a Northern Ireland only backstop with a customs border down the Irish Sea. This gives Northern Ireland tariff free access to both the EU and the UK markets.
The institute for Government have produced a handy explainer which goes into more detail on the Northern Ireland Protocol which you can read here.
The withdrawal agreement is the divorce terms and is the part of the agreement that is codified in legal text and goes on the UK and EU statue books.
It is important to note that the above withdrawal agreement is only the beginning of the Brexit process. This does not “get Brexit done”. This is merely the end of the beginning. What is much more important is the future relationship, where Boris Johnson has diverged significantly from Theresa May’s deal. The political declaration is not a legal text. It is merely a document of mutual intentions but does not tie either party into anything.
On goods the amended declaration suggests a new a looser trading relationship, with more divergence on regulations. This is incredibly dangerous as it allows Boris Johnson’s Government to lay waste to workers’ rights, food standards and environmental standards. Indeed, I pressed the Secretary of State for the Environment on this yesterday. You can watch the video here. It will give us a decade or more of deregulation.
On financial services – so important for Edinburgh – the deal is unchanged from Theresa May’s failed deal. It essentially guarantees nothing and treats the UK as a third country, there is the possibility that this could be enhanced but no firm commitment. This is a completely unnecessary risk to take with such a vital sector which compromise 80% of the UK economy.
Crucially, there is no longer any commitment to build on the ‘level playing field’ arrangements provided for in the Northern Ireland protocol; instead both parties commit to upholding existing standards at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Rather than the “dynamic alignment” suggested previously, the government looks to be closer to agreeing “non-regression” which means no backsliding on standards but does not commit the UK to improving standards in line with the EU.
The reason “level playing field” is so important is because if you want better standards than the EU you don’t need to scrap the level playing field as EU standards are always a minimum. This is the case whether you are in the EU or not. The removal of level playing field only means one thing – a reduced standard on worker, consumer, and environmental protections. The only reason you would opt out of the level playing field standards is if you intend to reduce standards, which we know would be a requirement in any trade deal with the United States.
This deal is ultimately worse than Theresa May’s deal. It is a hard Brexit that is only second to a no-deal Brexit in terms of how damaging it is to the economy. It allows the Government at the end of next year to go to WTO rules, which would, by the Government’s own analysis devastate our economy. We could effectively have a no deal by the end of 2020. This has been admitted by some Government MPs.
All this means this declaration would lead to a decade of deregulation and is a blueprint for a more distant future relationship that will do even more damage to jobs, rights and living standards.
Five other quick points:
- Theresa May’s deal was for close economic relationships with the EU post Brexit. Those words are now gone.
- Theresa May’s deal was looking to align with EU as much as possible. All references to alignment are now gone.
- Theresa May’s spectrum of outcomes as a guiding path to the future relationship are all gone and drives to a more distant relationship.
- This new political declaration results in greater divergence not alignment.
- Will therefore not be a soft Brexit but a deal that delivers a hard Brexit. As an example, document admits rules of origin and regulatory checks at borders.
This Twitter thread from Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, is useful in outlining the Labour Party position in more detail.
Parliament will sit on a Saturday tomorrow for the first time since the Falklands War to vote on the Prime Minister’s new deal. Of course, this just fulfils the so-called meaningful vote obligation – if the Government wins it still needs to pass an updated Withdrawal Bill, which needs to go through the full parliamentary process. It may be that a short technical extension will be required for this purpose.
Yesterday, Conservative MP Oliver Letwin tabled an amendment to the Government’s meaningful vote which made the motion amendable. The Government had initially wanted to make this a straight up or down vote to pressure MPs into backing the deal. Letwin confirmed that his own motivation for moving the amendment was to close a loophole in the Benn Act, which only forces the Prime Minister to request an Article 50 extension if the Brexit motion falls on Saturday. This is because under the current Benn legislation aiming to prevent no deal on October 31st, the Brexit motion could be approved on Saturday but the withdrawal agreement bill itself could then be voted down by extreme Brexiteers which would mean the PM would not have to seek an extension to Article 50.
I voted for the amendment and it passed 287 votes to 275.
This also means we can table, debate and vote on amendments on a range of options. I will be supporting efforts by my Labour colleagues to push for a People’s Vote as we are tantalisingly close. What threatens to scupper our efforts is the SNPs apparent backtracking on their support for a public vote on the deal. Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford made no reference to a public vote in their speeches to the SNP conference and have tabled an amendment for Saturday to push for a general election instead of a referendum. I will vote against this as we need to get Brexit back to the people in a public vote in the national interest. Everything else is just a distraction from this priority.
There is also a People’s Vote amendment been placed by the Liberal Democrats for the Queen’s Speech votes next week. The People’s Vote campaign had asked them not to do this as it is the wrong place for it and could damage the campaign. I am hoping they do not push this to a vote and we are working hard for them to remove this amendment.
The important information is that an amendment for a People’s Vote should ONLY be placed if it can be won, otherwise, we won’t be able to keep the delicate coalition of cross party MPs together for it. This is just the mathematical reality of parliament.
To reiterate, I cannot support a Brexit deal that will harm jobs, rights and living standards of my constituents. I believe this deal will unquestionably do that and could lead to a no deal. I therefore intend to vote against it and vote for any amendment which puts this back to the people in a public vote.