In the two-and-a-half years since Article 50 was triggered, Parliament has been paralysed; unable to agree a deal that will take us out of the EU and yet unwilling to support leaving with No Deal.
The debates around Britain’s withdrawal from the EU have become dominated by those who shout the loudest, on both sides of the debate. There are some who would happily see the UK leave with no Withdrawal Agreement in place; and another group who want to see Brexit cancelled entirely and the 2016 referendum result ignored.
I have always maintained that we need to reach a deal that respects the result of the referendum whilst protecting jobs, living standards and our economy.
I know there are some who think that leaving without a deal will be a quick fix, a way to get Brexit over the line and a clean break with the EU. I am under no illusions as to how much of a risk a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would be and the damage it could cause to our economy.
‘No Deal’ could not be further from being a quick fix or a clean break. Leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement in place would mean agreeing a raft of emergency measures with the EU – on medicines, on customs, on air traffic control – in a very short period of time. It would mean massive uncertainty for businesses who need to have the confidence to be able to continue trading. And it would mean that we fall back on ‘WTO terms’ for international trade – leading to the immediate imposition of tariffs and trading barriers.
Equally, I do not believe that we can renege on the decision that the British people took in 2016. In Barnsley Central, 68% voted to ‘Leave’. That decision cannot be ignored or wished away and it must be respected, or else we risk profoundly damaging our democracy.
The only way that we can avoid the uncertainty of No Deal, whilst respecting the referendum, is through Parliament passing a deal.
On Wednesday 4 September I voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2019. This Bill, which became law on Monday, provides for an extension to the Article 50 process until 31 January 2020, unless Parliament can pass a deal before that date. It is still my preference that we leave with a deal in place on 31 October 2019.
On Monday 9 September the Government confirmed that Parliament will be prorogued until 14 October, denying MPs the opportunity to hold the Government to account at a moment of profound national importance.
I do not believe that this prorogation should take place. Parliament should be sitting for the maximum amount of time ahead of the 31 October, and MPs should be working tirelessly to resolve the ongoing impasse over Brexit.
My recent votes in Parliament are not about stopping Brexit or tying the Government’s hands. This is about securing a good deal and delivering an orderly Brexit.
There is no value in having an extension for its own sake, or simply kicking the can further down the road. Any extension should have a clearly defined purpose and make it more likely for a deal that is acceptable to a majority in Parliament to be passed.
That’s why, alongside this process, I have worked with colleagues in Parliament to successfully amend this Bill and enable an improved Withdrawal Agreement to be put back in front of MPs.
This version of the Withdrawal Agreement is the product of the cross-party talks that were taking place between the Government and the Opposition. It provides a commitment that UK employment rights will not lag behind those in the EU; that our environmental protections are preserved after Brexit; and that our businesses can access frictionless trade with the rest of Europe whilst being outside the Single Market and ending freedom of movement.
This Withdrawal Agreement is the product of compromise and consensus. If passed, it would enable us to respect the result of the referendum whilst avoiding the uncertainty and economic damage of No Deal.
The last 3 years of debate have underlined that our politics are under enormous pressure. The ability of all sides to come together and compromise is being lost. The result is that those who shout the loudest are the only ones having their voices heard. We have got to rebuild our broken politics and rediscover the spirit of co-operation. That means understanding that compromise is not weakness, and that consensus is not betrayal.
As the MP for Barnsley Central, I have taken exceptional steps to ensure that our Region is best prepared whatever happens in the Brexit process. I’ve taken on the additional responsibility of Mayor of the Sheffield City Region so that I can ensure that Barnsley and South Yorkshire are best placed to meet the challenges of Brexit and make a success of it. This includes making sure we get our fair share of the money we used to pay to the EU; working towards securing a devolution deal that will put powers from Westminster and Whitehall into the hands of local communities; and addressing the fundamental economic, transport and skills challenges our Region faces – vital work that must be done regardless of what happens with Brexit.
I hope that, regardless of the next stages in the Brexit debate, the decent majority can unite around a common path and a shared future. That is what I will be striving towards in the days, weeks and months to come.