Not many of us would have believed 12 months ago that in a few short weeks we would be voting to leave the European Union.
But vote to leave we did in last June’s referendum — albeit by a slim majority — and now it is up to all of us, from Parliamentarians to the man and woman in the street, to work together to make sure that we get the best possible Brexit deal for everyone in Britain.
We need a Brexit deal that is good for the whole country, not just the rich and famous and the City financial institutions — a deal that works for businesses, protects jobs and workers’ rights, and ensures everyone enjoys a decent standard of living.
The referendum divided the country almost down the middle and you were either firmly in the ‘Remain’ or the ‘Leave’ camp.
I described myself as a reluctant ‘Remainer’. I wanted to see Britain remain in Europe because I thought that was the wisest course of action for today, as well as for future generations. However, as someone who believes in democracy I accepted the majority decision of the electorate and acknowledge that the will of the people must be respected.
Last week the House of Commons took the first steps towards paving the way for Prime Minister Theresa May to start the process. She wants to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March and the Bill, which 498 MPs voted for, with 114 against, after a marathon debate, will begin that process.
As your MP it is my job to work with colleagues on both sides of the House and both sides of the debate to ensure that we make a success of Britain leaving the EU and end up in a better position than we would have done if we had remained. We need a Brexit deal that is good for the whole country, not just the rich and famous and the City financial institutions — a deal that works for businesses, protects jobs and workers’ rights, and ensures everyone enjoys a decent standard of living.
That is not going to be easy. We will have to put in place trade deals around the world that will compensate for the loss of single market tariff concessions, and there is a host of other issues in the Brexit White Paper, which has now been published by the Government, that will need to be gone through with a fine tooth comb — immigration, the rights of EU nationals in the UK and vice versa, sovereignty, security and defence, and agriculture, to name a few.
Whilst the Labour Party has said we will not frustrate the Brexit process, we will be pressing for guarantees and, if necessary, seeking amendments to Article 50 before a final deal can be signed off.
The decision to leave the EU was extremely close and the voices of those who voted to remain should not be ignored. I have been contacted by many constituents outlining their views and concerns, and I welcome further correspondence so that I am as fully appraised as possible.
While Brexit was about whether we remained a member of the EU, it was not a vote to turn our back on Europe, and it did not give the Government a blank cheque to deliver a bargain basement Brexit.
We should view Brexit as an opportunity to make the UK a fairer country and we should see the vote as confidence in the UK’s ability to prosper in the world. We all have a duty to make this happen.
We have to ensure that the Brexit deal, whatever that may be, works for working people and is not used as a way of making the wealthy even richer. In particular, my Northern MP colleagues and I must work together to make sure the North East is not further marginalised by a bad deal.
The Labour Party will be demanding a plan from the Government to ensure it is accountable throughout the negotiations to Parliament and the people we all represent, along with a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given approval in the Commons.
Brexit is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but it is one that will determine the future of this country for generations to come so the deal we strike must be the right one for Britain.