After a great deal of thought over the last few days, I decided that I couldn’t vote for the Government’s Brexit deal, the EU (Future Relationship) Bill, which has been rushed through Parliament after just five hours of debate in the Commons Chamber today. Whilst I respect the outcome of the referendum in 2016 and the importance of sealing a future trade deal with the EU (and decided, therefore, not to vote against the Bill) I couldn’t in all conscience vote for a deal that will be so damaging to our country’s future, which will drive down workers’ rights, endanger yet more jobs and risk environmental standards.

I want to make it clear that I am not abstaining because I have no view, either on this this deal or on Brexit as a whole. Quite the opposite. We left the European Union in January this year. The vote today was about the terms of our future relationship with our closest and most important trading partner. This is a crucially important moment in our history, that the Prime Minister and his Government are using it to play political games with the EU, when the focus for the last four and a half years should have been on getting the best deal for the UK, its regions and communities.

The fact that we have been put in this position, where we are voting on a paper-thin deal, literally in the last moments before our exit from the EU, is entirely the responsibility of the Government, and I think it has all been quite deliberate. The Government’s farcical, drawn out approach to those exit negotiations was, in my view, designed to get us to this point, where the threat of ‘no deal’ has been used to force through a deal which has no real safeguards against the dilution of protections on the environment, food standards, workers’ rights and carries with it the danger of damaging trade disputes in the future.

The truth is, this is a dreadful deal for working people, which will potentially have a damaging impact on our economy, our public services and jobs in the future. In addition, it is a danger to workers’ rights. While the deal might contain a commitment not to “weaken or reduce its labour and social levels of protection”, that will be almost impossible to enforce in practice, because of the legal mechanisms used in the document (for instance, it talks of a dilution of standards “in a manner that has an effect on trade or investment”). This prioritises the needs of big business above those of workers.

The agreement presented to MPs in the Commons today couldn’t be altered or amended by Parliament. As representatives of our constituents, we had little time to scrutinise it or debate the detail. We were instead, presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ deal. This is not the return of Parliamentary sovereignty that the Government has been crowing about for the last few years, it is just more Government-by-decree.

I’ve always been opposed to a ‘no deal’ scenario that would have been disastrous for our economy in so many ways, but I do not accept that this was the only alternative to the deal that the Government has presented to us at this late stage. Months and years have been wasted that could have been used to forge a deal with real protections and which guarded us against regression in standards and rights.

Of course, it is always difficult to abstain, because as politicians, we are put in Parliament to make decisions on behalf of our constituents and the way we leave the EU is one of the biggest decisions we’ll make in several generations. Sometimes, however, it is the right thing to do. Whilst I am not interested in going over old ground and accept the Government’s mandate to leave the European Union, I simply couldn’t sanction a deal that threatens jobs and rights, protections and standards and leaves us staring at such an uncertain future.

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