Rachael Maskell MP, York Central
Rachael Maskell MP, York Central

The Prime Minister left it until the night before Christmas to announce the conclusion of his talks. Once declared as the “easiest deal in history” by the International Trade Secretary, along with the Prime Minister’s affirmation that he had his “oven ready deal” at the last General Election promising a “comprehensive” trade deal with the exact same benefits as the EU, it has turned out to be nothing further from the truth.

Over this Christmas bank holiday weekend, the ‘Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, of the one part, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of the other Part’, to give it its full name, was published.

This EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is not what we were promised at all. It doesn’t cover trade arrangements for 80% of our economy in the service sector, including financial services, creates considerable friction at our borders with bureaucratic checks, new documentation, rules and processes and loses many of the things we have most valued as being members of the EU. There are some practical elements, including cooperation over national security measures, although inferior to current arrangements, and the ability to trade, tariff free, with the EU, which need to be in place by the end of this year.

If your starting place is the deal we had as full members of the EU, then this is a terrible deal. However, we left on 31 January this year and the measures before Parliament do not revisit this history. I still believe that we were far better off in the EU, and that we will, as a nation, regret the decision to leave. However when you lose elections, you lose your ability to stop these things happening.

If your starting place is with ‘no deal’ in place, then this deal is considerably better than this on two accounts. Firstly, it does create a relationship with the EU through which to trade and cooperate. Second, it sets out a negotiation framework through which further progress can be made. Of course these negotiations should have taken place this year. So far from being a done deal, it is pragmatic as to what has been agreed, and leaves the door open for the UK to draw closer to the EU again.

Finally, the reason it is a poor, weak deal is because of this Tory Government’s red lines of control over our “Borders, Money and Law”. If the Government wanted to prioritise jobs, the environment, personal rights or a continuity of trade, we would have a very different deal before us, and one which would incorporate customs and market alignment, rights upheld and progressed, one security system and much more besides. Much is therefore missing from this deal and this is the real scandal. The Prime Minister has failed to negotiate the deal he promised, and when you drill into the detail, there is little to show for his bluster. Every job lost, every business that migrates, every investment that never makes it to our shores and every shrinkage in our economy will be on his account, and his alone. When environmental measures fail, or employment rights are cut, or people face new charges and costs in travel, he will be responsible. Young people will be denied the opportunity to study abroad and working people the right to live and work in a country of their choosing. There will be one Government to blame as they alone negotiated this deal.

As a pragmatist, and with just over 24 hours left in the transition arrangements, I face a stark choice, ‘No Deal’ or the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. No deal is the worst of all deals, so I cannot contemplate supporting this scenario, and therefore cannot vote against the UK securing the deal and the arrangements in the Bill to put something in place. Now is not the time to play politics, as the Prime Minister has done by leaving everything until the last minute to back us into this binary choice. If the deal is not implemented, we have nothing.

I know York’s economy would not sustain this. Imagine WTO trade tariffs on goods. The cost of living would go up and we would lose employment, as if we were not already in the midst of a jobs crisis with Covid19. The Office of Budget Responsibility has said that the UK would be 4% worse off after leaving the Transition Arrangements, but a further 2% worse off if we immediately moved onto WTO trading terms. Worse still, the friction and the expense would result in manufacturing moving from the UK, and this is why the Trade Unions have called on the Opposition not to oppose this deal.

Saving jobs is always a priority for me and I refuse to play politics with people’s livelihoods and futures.

So do I abstain or vote for? This is something I have seriously considered over the last few weeks. Now having read the whole deal and the Bill, every word has brought me closer to having to make this choice.

On 30 December the UK Parliament is being asked to vote, not on the Agreement, but on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill (only published 24 hours before a vote on the Bill). This enabling legislation addresses the practicalities of issues like data sharing for criminal matters, product safety data, safeguards and implementation.

It is both short and technical. Short because the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is minimal, and therefore there isn’t a lot to implement, and technical, as it deals with things that need to be in place for data sharing and border checks. Having debated many Statutory Instruments on similar issues, I have to say that Labour’s support has always been pragmatic in Committee. Labour will be laying down a significant number of amendments on security, cross-border studying and working and on other arrangements. I believe these all enhance the legislation and mechanics before Parliament. They will increase scrutiny and measure the impact.

However the option to scrutinise the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, vote for this deal or apply the Constitutional Reform and Government Act (CRAGA) will not be open to us; applied to other trade deals where the agreement is laid before Parliament for 21 days. It is specifically excluded as Parliament will only sit for a few hours before the deal comes into play. The Parliamentary votes are therefore on the measures in the Bill, alone.

The reality is that we would be looking at a very different Labour agreement, but we are not in Government, and have no chance of completing this deal of a close and progressive relationship with the EU until we are in Government, so this is not up for discussion today.

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