Brexit is by far the biggest and most divisive single issue to have arisen in British Politics in my political lifetime.
I am often reminded by voters that ‘the people voted out’ and indeed, in Chesterfield around 60 per cent of voters backed Leave, I accept that the Referendum vote can’t be ignored.
When I stood for re-election in the 2017 ’snap’ election, I was clear about what a vote for me meant.
I would respect the Referendum result but I would hold the Government to deliver on the promises Leave voters were made during that referendum. In simple terms that means continued trade with European nations, control of immigration and the ability to attract world class talent.
It was always going to be the case that the final EU deal would leave many dissatisfied, but these are the key tests that I think would be a fair delivery of the Brexit vote. Labour’s proposed deal would do just that, with permanent membership of the Customs Union, but control of immigration restored.
And whilst a no-deal Brexit might open opportunities to sign Free Trade deals with other countries these would leave us with a huge immediate deficit if it came at the cost of our current
EU free trade deal, and each of those new trade deals would likely come with their own pitfalls. No US trade deal would be completed until US Healthcare giants could get their claws on to our NHS for sure.
Since the General Election, the issue of Northern Ireland and achieving a Brexit deal that is compliant with the UK’s commitments in the Good Friday Agreement has also moved to centre stage. Membership of the Customs Union would at least alleviate the trade concerns. I have had huge numbers of letters on Brexit from all shades of opinion.
But I worry that we are moving further away from consensus.
I think if Labour’s Brexit deal is supported there will be no need for a second referendum.
Labour’s deal is not so far removed from what most Leave voters expected nor would it push us towards the catastrophe of WTO Terms.
However, Jeremy Corbyn this week suggested that if we fail to convince Parliament of the need to support a deal in line with the one I have outlined, that he would support the Prime Minister’s deal being put to the British people for ratification.
I also declined to vote to extend Article 50 as sometimes deadlines are helpful in focusing minds, and reaching an agreement.
I hope that the Prime Minister will allow Parliament to vote on Labour’s deal but if that and all other options fall we may be forced to delay leaving the EU, which I know would be a huge frustration to many.
However, I also reject the second most regular suggestion - that a Leave vote meant moving to WTO terms on trade with Europe.
Many Leave campaigners promised during the Referendum campaign that trade would be unaffected and the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal would include huge tariffs on all imported food averaging at 22 per cent.
Even worse, tariffs on dairy products for example are 35 per cent.
We import over 30 per cent of all the beef, pork and lamb we consume and 39 per cent of all fruit.
I am aware that many people have simply switched off from the whole issue and just want it over.
They want politicians to work together, but firstly there needs to be agreement on what the ultimate objective should be.
I believe there is a majority in the House of Commons for delivering on the Brexit vote without the damage of leaving without a deal, I hope the Prime Minister reaches out to those members across the house who will approve a deal of this sort.
- Toby Perkins has been the Labour MP for Chesterfield since 2010.