Kerry McCarthy Labour MP for Bristol East
Statement on the final Brexit Deal vote
I will try to explain my personal motivations for – reluctantly – backing the deal.
It is not a decision I took lightly by any means. I’ve supported and campaigned tirelessly for our continued membership of the EU since the vote in 2016, through calls for a People’s Vote, amendments and extensions. In leaving the EU we have turned our backs on the rest of the world, and been left with a thin deal which does not do enough to protect the environment, jobs and workers’ rights. Yet while underwhelming, the alternative to this Brexit deal was leaving without any deal at all and it was imperative that this was rejected and the UK was provided with a platform upon which to build future working relationships with the EU.
As Keir Starmer outlined in the House of Commons, it is in everyone’s best interests for MPs to be honest as to what they wanted from the vote; it is not honest to abstain on a vote when you actually want it to go through. Which we did because at such a late stage, the only alternative would have been no deal. There was no opportunity of pressing for a better deal (as we sought when we opposed earlier deals) and no chance of getting an extension.
Abstaining on this vote wouldn’t have stopped Brexit. I appreciate that abstaining would not in self have led to a no-deal scenario, as the Government had enough votes to carry it without Labour support, but I can only repeat what I have said above. Abstention is never an ideal tactic, as I think it can appear indecisive and weak – it should be only be used in limited circumstances, for example at second reading of a Bill, to send out a message that we have serious reservations and will seek to amend the Bill during committee and Report Stage. Or, as we did recently, to signify that we wanted the PM to bring to the House a better package on Covid. This tactic does not work when we have reached a deadline, as we did with Brexit on 30th December.
It’s important to take note of the opinion polling conducted by YouGov and Opinium, which found that the public overwhelmingly thought MPs should vote for the deal (55% for / 15% against). For Labour voters the split was (43/21), for Remain voters it was (50/19), and for Labour Remain voters it was (41/24) in favour MPs should vote for the deal https://www.opinium.com/resource-center/uk-the-public-want-mps-to-vote-for-the-brexit-deal/ .
Rest assured that Labour will hold the Government to account for I; the responsibility of Brexit lies at the Government’s door. The failures of Mr. Johnson’s Party must be scrutinised and challenged, this will start I imagine, with pressure over the coming weeks to opt back into the Erasmus scheme. I am also closely involved, as a member of the Musicians’ Union and in my shadow Transport role, with this campaign https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/563294.
The peace process in Northern Ireland must be protected and businesses, reeling from the pandemic’s effects must be allowed the best opportunity to plan their recovery. UK manufacturing is desperate for stability and investment, and as a result the union Unite, called on MPs to support the deal suggesting that the “Brexit deal is a floor, not a ceiling”. For a future Labour Government to establish further agreement with the EU on issues relating to workers’ rights then these foundations must be in play, rather than as Unite suggest “a no-deal departure (which) would be catastrophic for jobs and constitute an act of gross industrial vandalism.”
I bitterly regret that we weren’t able to secure a second referendum to maintain our existing deal with the EU; it was clear that no deal that was negotiated after this point would match it. Yet unfortunately this is the situation we are faced with. I understand that my decision to back the deal and my subsequent explanation may well be disappointing to you, but my priority now must be on restoring trust and trade with our European partners, and forcing the Government to secure protections on workers’ rights, travel, and environmental standards.