By Mike Buckley
Theresa May has been at pains over recent months to point to the damage no deal would do to the country, while at the same time committing to take the country over the cliff if MPs vote against her deal.
May wants us to believe that it’s her way or disaster, and to scare Labour MPs into voting for her deal as a result. The problem for the prime minister is that she doesn’t have the power to force a no deal outcome. Parliament is sovereign and, in the end, can force an outcome of its own choosing, as was acknowledged by the recently returned Amber Rudd.
In one way, fear of no deal is understandable – a no deal outcome is indeed disastrous for the UK. Legal limbo, WTO rules requiring tariffs on our exports and imports, lost airplane landing rights, no access to European arrest warrants, lost residency rights for British citizens in other EU countries (and vice versa), higher costs, more red tape, fewer opportunities, fewer workplace rights and protections and restrictions in our ability to study or work abroad are just some of the problems we would have created.
Even if May’s best case scenario worked out, many of the effects of any Chequers based deal are just as bad as no deal. Both would take us outside the customs union and single market and end police cooperation, technical agencies and numerous other elements of European cooperation which have brought nothing but benefits to the UK since we joined.
If passed, May’s deal would take our service sector – 80% of our economy – out of our main export market. It would harm manufacturing as many products make their money from after-sales services. It would harm our security, excluding us from security arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant and data sharing on terrorist threats because it refuses the legal framework that enables cooperation. May’s deal would lead to much the same damage as no deal, like it or not.
May’s agreement looks likely to fall at the first or second hurdle, voted down by the Tory Brexiteers and the DUP. It is the duty of Labour MPs however to make sure that it is voted down. May’s deal comes nowhere close to meeting Labour’s six tests, which call for any new EU relationship to have the ‘exact same benefits’ as EU membership, for rights and protections to be defended, and national security and our ability to tackle cross-border crime to be protected. Whether it’s no deal or May’s deal, the result would be the same: a miserable Brexit for the UK threatening business confidence, our NHS and the future of young people. For Labour MPs to ride to May’s rescue would be a betrayal of their constituents and the party.
Any MP concerned about no deal needs to recognise that it is fully within parliament’s ability to stop a no deal Brexit. If May’s deal is rejected, as it should be, parliament is in the driving seat. The question then becomes what parliament will do with its power.
If public opinion was resolutely behind Brexit it would be harder for MPs to take a stand against it. In reality all the movement since 2016 has been away from Brexit and towards Remain, particularly among Labour voters. The campaign for a public vote on the deal has been far more successful than many people had thought possible, opening the political space for a new vote to be backed not only as the most democratic way forward, but also as the most popular.
If we go ahead with Brexit we face an unpalatable choice: either we leave the customs union and single market and take a huge economic hit, or we stay in them to minimise the hit and have to follow rules which we would no longer have a say on. Neither is good for Britain.
Labour MPs must ask themselves if May’s deal is better than the deal we’ve already got inside the EU. If they cannot look their constituents in the eye and say that it is, they must vote this deal down and hand the final decision back to the public in a People’s Vote.
Mike Buckley is the Director of Labour for a People’s Vote