Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

We will not be bounced

An arbitrary leaving date risks a triple whammy for the north-east: loss of trade, loss of people who do vital jobs and a contracting economy, believe Paul Williams and Phil Wilson

As new Brexit evidence emerges, we have to be honest with our electorate – however difficult that might be for us or for them.

Nobody voted to leave the European Union to make prices higher, to make our National Health Service struggle to recruit and retain staff and to reduce our gross domestic product making us all poorer. But these things are already looking inevitable if we get the wrong Brexit deal.

The north-east, where we are members of parliament, exports goods worth £7bn a year to EU countries. In fact, 60 per cent of the region’s trade is with the EU.

Voters rejected the Tory version of an extreme Brexit that was put to them last June. The post-election period could have been an opportunity to build political consensus around an exit from the EU that kept the United Kingdom enjoying the full benefits of the single market and customs union, protecting both jobs and trade.

Instead Theresa May has carried on regardless, stumbling into the unknown. We believe her government is acting against the interest of north-east people and businesses by interpreting the desire to leave the political institution of the EU as a need to leave the single market and customs union, and organisations such as the European Medicines Agency and Euratom.

Representing a part of the country that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU presents a dilemma. As an MP do you just press the ‘leave’ button and depart on the terms laid out by the government in the face of evidence that this is already harming our country? Or do you resist this, propose sensible compromises and risk the wrath of people who think you might be undermining the result of the EU referendum?

It is true that people voted to leave the EU in June 2016. But in June 2017 we won our own mandate to represent the interests of local people in parliament. And it is parliament’s role to ensure that if and when we leave the EU we protect jobs, trade, workers’ rights, the environment and our economy.

In ten years time people will look back on this period and will be unforgiving of MPs who allowed the UK to harm itself. There exists only rhetoric from a small number of extreme Brexit-supporting Tory rightwingers who tell us that outside of the EU there are countries lining up to do free trade deals with us that will help our prosperity. Donald Trump’s America will look after its own interests, and United States companies would love a stake in our NHS in return for a deal. India may offer us some opportunities for trade, but only at the cost of relaxing our immigration rules.

In 10 years’ time people will look back on this period and will be unforgiving of MPs who allowed the UK to harm itself

Businesses are either terrified that trade barriers and customs rules will add costs and lose jobs, or relaxed safe in the knowledge that they can move out of the UK at a stroke if they need to. Honda UK employ 4,000 people in Swindon and manufacture 250,000 cars per year, of which a third are exported to Europe. They have said that adding a 15 minute customs delay to their 350 truck deliveries per day could cost them £850,000 per year. Many thousands of jobs rely on the car industry, especially in the north-east, where Nissan is a massive employer. The concerns of such a critical industry cannot be ignored.

New trading partners could also create more challenges than solutions. Should the UK be able to negotiate around the ‘America First’ policy of Trump, car manufacturers would still have the equivalent of a 26 per cent tariff increase to convert the cars to match US standards.

In a low-margin business such as car manufacturing, where a company will be aiming to recoup two to four per cent on their investment, these financial barriers could tip the balance and see other countries becoming home to Honda and Nissan, as well as the jobs that go with them.

We are experiencing a triple threat to the north-east – loss of jobs as we lose trade, loss of people who do vital jobs including in our NHS and loss of money as our economy shrinks. Our responsibility to the electorate demands that we are open about this threat, that we explain ourselves and that we put the interests of our country first.

History will not forgive us if we take the EU referendum result as a blank cheque for an extreme Tory Brexit which damages our country for the next generation and beyond. That is why we will not be bounced into agreeing an arbitrary and fixed date for leaving the EU of 11pm on 29 March 2019. We need to get this right. We need the flexibility to continue negotiating with the EU if necessary. Dropping off a cliff edge with all of the dire consequences this will bring to our country is unimaginable and grossly irresponsible.


Paul Williams is member of parliament for Stockton South and Phil Wilson is member of parliament for Sedgefield. They tweet at @PaulWilliamsMP and @MPphilwilson

Photo: Tom Blackwell

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Paul Williams MP

is MP for Stockton South

Phil Wilson MP

is the MP for Sedgefield

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