I am voting for this deal today.
But this is not the deal that anyone on Labour’s benches welcome. We accept the deal but it’s not one that we support or one that we would have negotiated, but sadly the alternative of “No Deal” is even worse. When this is done today, we will have to get on and make the absolute best of the situation, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that the road ahead is going be extremely difficult.
I expect the Bill will pass today on the basis that, bad as the deal is, it’s better than tariffs and the consequences thereof, under No Deal.
The economic and social damage of leaving the EU on the Tory Government’s terms or without a deal, are both disastrous. And indeed, as it is, the non-tariff barriers of customs’ checks and the sea of red tape that business will now have to wade through, will cause serious economic damage and very significant job losses.
The vote is in effect a judgment on the lesser of two evils.
As the Shadow Secretary of State, the warm words around workers’ rights and protections give me no comfort at all. In Chapter Six of the deal about Labour and social standards it says:
“A party shall not weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties, its labour and social levels of protection below the levels in place at the end of the transition period, including by failing to effectively enforce its law and standards.”.
So, to fall foul of this provision on an accusation of lowering workers’ rights, it is necessary to prove that reducing employment rights would affect “trade or investment”. That is the acid test. That’s clearly a tight and restrictive test and will leave the way clear for the Tories to drive a coach and horse through the thin layer of protection that UK employees currently have. I say “employees” advisedly, as our employment legalisation is so weak that many “workers” who are not classed as employees, have no protection anyway.
The weakness of the provision is matched by the weakness of the adjudication process to deal with any complaints made under it.
Sadly, this lays bare the true intention of the Tories which is it to further weaken workers’ rights under the guise of “flexibility”. For “flexibility” we can read “insecurity” and “fragility”
Of course, in the event of offending against the provision the consequence would be to trigger the very tariffs that the PM said he’s avoided.
The question in front of us is about what sort of country we want to be. The question is more acute than ever.
There was a headline the other day which said: “The Brexit trade agreement will allow Britain and the European Union to enjoy a “special relationship” and put an end to the “ugly” politics since the referendum, Michael Gove says.”
But putting that nonsense to one side, perhaps it’s about time we had a “special relationship” with each other as human beings and a “special relationship” with our one “special planet”.
So, what should we working for ourselves in our country and for people across the globe?
I suggest that we resolve to secure a sustainable world where everyone has enough to eat, has good work with sufficient income, good health provision, comprehensive lifelong education opportunities, dignity and care for the elderly and vulnerable, a decent home to live in, where our human rights are observed, and people have a say and control over their lives and their community.
Sadly, this is not what this deal offers but it falls to all of us to fight for it.