Alex Sobel MP: I can’t back Theresa May over Brexit – or a No Deal disaster

What are the options as Britain prepares to leave the EU? Alex Sobel MP offers his perspective.
What are the options as Britain prepares to leave the EU? Alex Sobel MP offers his perspective.
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OVER the weeks to come, Parliament will have its most intense debates and votes on Brexit yet.

We will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government. It is important to be clear that I won’t be voting for Theresa May’s deal and I would support a new referendum if that were presented to Parliament.

A member of protocol carries the Union Flag, right, and EU flag prior to the arrival of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May at EU headquarters in Brussels, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May is kicking off a big Brexit weekend by traveling to EU headquarters in Brussels.

A member of protocol carries the Union Flag, right, and EU flag prior to the arrival of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May at EU headquarters in Brussels, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May is kicking off a big Brexit weekend by traveling to EU headquarters in Brussels.

However, there are several scenarios that may be presented to MPs and it is important that my constituents know where I stand on each of them. I believe we have five broad options:

Theresa May’s ‘Deal’: It is clear that it is only marginally better than no deal at all. It merely pushes back decisions into the transition and provides no answers as to what Brexit Britain will look like.

After describing the final outcome as a ‘spectrum’, I asked the Prime Minister directly what her spectrum was. Her response: “There is a balance between checks and controls and the acceptance of rules and regulations.” Any clearer? Me neither!

Under this deal, we would extend the uncertainty and give the Government the freedom to negotiate whatever kind of hard Brexit they’d like.

No Deal: This would mean crashing out as the only major country worldwide with no international trade deals. The chaos around customs checks puts all goods coming into the country at risk – food, medicines, fuel, manufacturing parts, electricity arrangements and countless others.

It would be devastating to industries depending on barrier-free trade and ‘just in time’ logistics, and would inevitably result in job losses up and down the country. The Government’s own technical notices make grim reading.

I cannot support any option which doesn’t protects jobs, employment and consumer rights and environmental standards. We must see no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and Spain.

Let’s remember the Single Market accounts for 25 per cent of global GDP and represents Britain’s biggest trading partner. Meanwhile 45 per cent of UK exports are to the EU while 50 per cent imports come from the EU.

Renegotiation: Earlier this year, Labour said it would strike a new “Single Market deal” if we entered government. This deal would give the same economic benefits we have now. However, we have just four months. The March 29, 2019, date would need to be postponed. If May’s deal is voted down, then whoever is Prime Minister will need to request an extension of Article 50 to avoid No Deal Brexit.

Membership of EFTA (Norway Model) and/or Customs Union: For us to enjoy the same access rights and benefits of the Single Market without having to negotiate a whole new treaty, we could apply for membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and be part of the European Economic Area.

However, there is no customs union for EFTA members. If we wanted seamless trade and no tariffs for goods, we would need a new customs union which could be identical to the one the EU already has. This honours the referendum result, but we would have to accept loss of political representation in the EU and have no say over the rules.

Remaining in the EU: Consider all that we have learnt since the referendum – negotiating a deal that is better than we have now is effectively impossible; that the queue of countries asking for trade deals has been oddly missing; that Vote Leave broke electoral law. Given all this, it is surely right that people be given the chance to think again?

However, this still brings challenges. When the EU rules were written, no-one considered that a leaving nation might change its mind after triggering Article 50. Re-joining as a new nation would cause big barriers to winning a new referendum, such as a loss of the rebate, or being forced to join the euro or Schengen, which would give the new Leave campaign a huge stock of ammunition.

I have recently written to European Council President Donald Tusk asking if the UK could stay in the EU on the exact same terms it currently enjoys. I hope he will make clear that it can.

To conclude, if the opportunity to vote to renegotiate, to join EFTA or for another vote on EU membership arises in Parliament, I will vote for any and all of these. I will not vote for the Prime Minister’s blank cheque and I will oppose a no deal Brexit with every fibre of my being.

Alex Sobel is Labour MP
 for Leeds North West.