Last weekend the Labour Party’s position on Brexit moved on. The position is now that Britain should remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union through a necessary transition period after March 2019 and keeps this open as a long term option. This couldn’t be more important for the South West as, for example, our region is one of the largest manufacturing regions in the UK and relies on the truly frictionless trade and customs arrangements that the Single Market and Customs Union ensure. I am hopeful that this sensible move from the Party leadership allied with the arithmetic in Westminster will see the UK staying as members of these two vital agreements in the future.
There are also two new Labour campaigns that are focussing on the consequences of Brexit: the Labour Campaign for Free Movement and the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, both of which agree that it’s best for the country to remain in both the Customs Union and the Single Market.
David Davis and his team returned to Brussels last week as the Article 50 negotiations continue. It does appear that the government still haven’t grasped either the size of the task at hand or the fact that there are two sides in this negotiation. The position papers released by the government over the summer, including those on customs, on Ireland and on judicial resolution, reveal that they are asking the EU27 for virtually the same systems that are currently in place, but without us being members of the EU. Unsurprisingly, the EU27 have made it clear that we cannot seek to have the same benefits we currently have without being members and contributing to the budget. This simply begs the question: what have the government been doing for the last 14 months?
What they have done in that time is issue threats: they have attempted to threaten the EU over the UK being less co-operative on security, threatened to return nuclear waste to the EU27, suggested that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, and, of course, held an election despite having just started the countdown clock on Article 50 in order to secure “strong and stable government” that now sees our country run by an interim Prime Minister propped up by the misogynistic DUP.
It has been five years since the UK opened our doors to the world through hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games, including holding parts of the games right here in the South West. From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony onwards, that summer of 2012 showed Britain at its best — open, tolerant, world-leading and world-embracing. Boyle’s masterpiece captured the UK recognising its history but as a nation with its eyes firmly on the future; on youth, on climate change, on working in the common interest both domestically and internationally. It was a confident celebration of Britain. But now our interim Prime Minister and her warring Cabinet are attempting to drag our country away from these core British values, turning us into a nation that is inward focussed - talking to ourselves about ourselves.
We must be under no illusions. Any kind of Brexit will make sustainably growing our economy and making sure society is more equal that much more difficult. I have been unequivocal that for reasons pragmatic, principled and patriotic I firmly believe Britain’s place should be remaining with our closest friends and neighbours inside the European Union. However, should we be unable to remain in the EU, it is incumbent on us to ensure we get the best deal for our economy and our society, something that Labour is totally committed to doing. The South West in particular, with our large manufacturing base, world class universities and agricultural industry (to name just three sectors) would be acutely affected by a bad Brexit deal.
The 2012 Olympics held a mirror to our country’s face and we saw a Britain proud of itself and proud of our leading place in the world. The words and actions of May, Davis, Johnson and Fox are diminishing us on the global stage. They are causing division and suspicion between us and our neighbours and ensuring we will fall behind in the global race. Those individuals won’t suffer but the South West will, it is our businesses, our public sector, our people that would pay the price.
It is up to us to ensure Britain stays in the running.
Out and about in the constituency
The below provides just a flavour of what I've been up to around the South West over the summer. Please get in touch if you'd like to invite me to an event.
Over the summer, I returned to Hinkley Point, which is now home to one of the largest construction sites in Europe as the new nuclear power station starts to take shape. The statistics associated with the build are mind-boggling, with over 5.6m cubic metres of ground being shifted and 3m tonnes of concrete being laid, as well as 4,000 kilometres of electrical cabling. The project will provide 25,000 job opportunities, with almost £4bn put into the regional economy over the lifetime of the project.
I met with both EDF, who are building the plant and trade union representatives, who are playing an essential role in the important and robust collective agreement on this construction project. Both EDF and the unions expressed concerns over the status of the Euratom treaty, something I have written about before. Regardless of whether you believe nuclear power should be part of our energy mix or not, it is absolutely vital that we have the proper nuclear safeguarding measures in place as we go forward. Instead, the government has put this and many other things at risk by unnecessarily withdrawing the UK from Euratom.
It was great to spend the weekend at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' festival in Dorset. Tolpuddle is a celebration and commemoration of the sacrifice that those agricultural workers made back in 1834 in order to try and organise for better wages and better lives.
As well as seeing friends old and new from across the labour movement, I was also delighted to speak at a meeting on "Women and Brexit", as well as being part of the panel for the inaugural Tolpuddle Question Time. Topics raised including Brexit (surprise, surprise...), local government finance, basic universal income, and rights for the disabled in the context of Brexit. It was also encouraging to sit on these panels with so many fantastic women including Thangam Debbonaire and Jo Stevens.
Thanks as ever must go to the organisers, South West TUC, for both the weekend as a whole and the ever growing procession through the village on Sunday. I look forward to returning next year and long into the future.
Plymouth Brexit Summit
Luke Pollard, the new Labour MP in Plymouth organised a great event last week, bringing together businesses, academics, trade unions and many others to listen to what Plymouth needs from Brexit so that a plan can be formulated based on the needs of the city. A common theme was the need to end the uncertainty and to have Government assurances that EU funding will be replaced in its totality.
We heard from the Chamber of Commerce that 70% of Devon’s exports go to the EU so the effect of non-tariff and tariff barriers could be very substantial; from the Marine Research Laboratory that free movement of researchers is essential due to the skills shortage in the UK and with 23% of their EU employees having already left or planning to leave; the NFU also spoke about the need for EU workers – with 80,000 seasonal workers needed each year as well as the very many EU citizens who are working all year round in the food industry from abattoirs to food processing. We also heard how 80% of the fish caught off our waters are exported fresh to the EU. If we need to develop markets further away we need massive investment in our infrastructure. It was also interesting to hear views from a social enterprise company on the importance of maintaining the opportunity for social mobility and connecting, especially young, people across Europe.
There was much more discussed in what was a really interesting and informative event. I look forward to seeing the document that Luke is compiling from these speakers and the work groups that were held on the day.
Taunton Young Labour
It is always a pleasure to be invited to speak with Labour Party members and I am especially pleased to listen to the enthusiasm of young members. At the beginning of August I met a very keen and well informed group of young people in Taunton and the questions and conversations were far ranging from what Brexit could mean to their chances to study abroad to the effects of quantitative easing.
Salisbury for Europe meeting
On Friday 22nd September, I’m looking forward to speaking at Salisbury for Europe’s meeting taking place at 7pm in the Salisbury Arts Centre. I’ll be in conversation with former Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP as we discuss “How will Brexit end?”. Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/is-this-the-end-of-brexit-tickets-36539059310
Work in Parliament
Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET)
The Foreign Affairs Committee met this week to discuss the EU's strategy on all manner of developments throughout the world. The most recent high profile challenges are North Korea's war games in the Pacific. The Foreign Affairs Committee will look at how the EU can use its experience of finding a peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear programme and apply that to defusing the situation on the Korean peninsula. Other issues include how the EU's foreign policy can reduce the risk of terrorism at home - particularly pertinent after the harrowing attack in Barcelona - and how the EU can improve the rules on the export of arms ensuring that only countries that use those arms legally will be able to purchase European arms.
Industry, Energy and Research Committee (ITRE)
The main focus of the Committee on Industry, Energy and Research over the coming weeks will be energy efficiency and the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. Looking slightly further ahead, the committee will be preparing for important votes in the Strasbourg plenary session including votes on A Space Strategy for Europe.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM)
Following the summer break, the FEMM committee will focus much of its attention on increasing female participation in the labour market, hosting a workshop to discuss the European Commission's proposal "European Pillar of Social Rights". Members will also vote on the implementation of the European Disability Strategy.