I’m in Parliament today and I voted for the UK-EU trade deal, which has just passed the Commons. Unlike so many other Brexit-related votes we’ve had in recent years, I haven’t agonised about this and do not feel conflicted about it. I want to explain why.
We’ve left the European Union. That happened back in January. You probably all know that I disagreed with that outcome, but it was the outcome that a majority voted for and two subsequent general elections put that debate to bed. The only question facing Parliament is whether we have a trade deal with the EU when our existing agreements come to an end tomorrow night.
Unlike most decisions put before us, a vote against this deal does not mean the status quo for our trade, security and cooperation on social and economic rights. It means we leave the EU without a deal tomorrow night. Contrary to what we’ve heard from two Tory prime ministers – to their discredit – ‘no deal’ was never going to be better than having a deal. No deal would mean severe disruption and loss of jobs, livelihoods and supply chains. I don’t think anyone could seriously claim this to be a desirable outcome.
This deal has serious flaws. It doesn’t cover services – the majority of our economy – it weakens security cooperation, it undermines educational collaboration, it increases the burden on businesses and it increases non-tariff barriers with our nearest and biggest trading partners. All of these weaknesses would exist, and more, in a no deal outcome.
We could abstain, which is a legitimate choice, but the truth is that I’m not neutral as to whether this passes or not. Some colleagues will abstain and hope that the deal will pass anyway – the same argument deployed by the SNP for voting against. I understand the grief that some of my colleagues feel about Brexit, which means they won’t vote for a deal. They have that choice, but it is a luxury that a serious political party that seeks to govern does not to have on this issue. To govern is to choose and I don’t think that the majority of people would understand or accept a Labour abstention on this issue.
The deal that Boris Johnson has signed up to enables UK governments to take our future relationship in any direction. A future Labour government can use the same agreement to build new agreements where we think it is in the UK’s economic, trade and security interests to do so. These interests will be revealed in the coming years through practice and experience. We should go into the next election with a pragmatic view and be prepared to build on this deal and take it in the direction which best serves the UK’s future interests.
In her speech following the agreement, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid our country the enormous compliment of quoting two of our literary greats – Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot – when she said that ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’ and ‘What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.’
In that spirit, let me quote the great German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said:
‘Ältere Bekanntschaften und Freundschaften haben vor neuen hauptsächlich das voraus, dass man sich einander schon viel verziehen hat.’
Roughly translated: ‘Older acquaintances and friends have the advantage over new ones above all in that they have forgiven each other time and time again.’
Our country’s island story is bound up in the history of Europe and in Europe’s future. That won’t change. It’s up to us to forge a new partnership that works for the UK with our closest friends and allies across the European Union.
Wes Streeting MP