It’s been a frustrating fortnight in Parliament, with little sign of any action from a Government paralysed by its own deep divisions. My top priority remains securing a good Brexit deal that allows us to leave the EU in a way that protects jobs in our area – from steel to construction to retail.
For me – and for Labour – the Brexit debate since is about how we leave, not whether we leave.
I am a democrat. I campaigned for Remain but – like Labour as a whole – when Britain voted Leave we said we’d respect the Referendum result.
People rightly expected Britain to leave the EU on 29 March. This is what we’d all been told by Ministers for two years. But the Government have failed to negotiate a good enough Brexit deal to win public or Parliamentary support and, as a result, we’ve had the national humiliation of a British Prime Minister in Brussels begging for an extension to sort out the mess.
Three days after we should have left, Theresa May finally admitted she and the Conservative Party couldn’t provide the leadership needed and turned to Labour for help. She opened talks with Jeremy Corbyn about a better Brexit deal that could command cross-party support. Of course, this is what she should have done two years ago at the start of EU negotiations.
This week we’ve been continuing these discussions with the Government about our consistent Labour commitment – set out in our 2017 Election manifesto – to work to get a Brexit deal that best secures jobs, continues open trade, avoids a hard border in Northern Ireland and safeguards our consumer, workplace and environmental standards. The talks are detailed, serious and continuing.
However, it’s hard to negotiate with a Prime Minister who does not speak for the cabinet or lead her MPs; and who is the first Conservative leader in 200 years to face a grassroots vote of no confidence. It’s also essential that the next Tory leader cannot renege on any Brexit agreement reached now. Nevertheless, we will continue to do what we can to make these talks work. I think this is what people expect us to do, and what the country needs to get beyond the Brexit impasse.
While constituents are contacting me about Brexit – with widely differing viewpoints – far more come to me for help with day-to-day concerns about the NHS, housing, benefits payments, schools staff shortages, police cuts, unfair employers, decent wages, fly-tipping and debt.
These are the problems that millions of people who may not follow the details of the Brexit debate know and notice. They see the Government failing on Brexit, and they also see them failing on all these other fronts.
At any other time in our country’s history, when a Government can’t govern because it can’t get its business through Parliament, then a General Election would be held so the public have the chance to pass judgement on their politicians.
Although the Conservatives still cling to power, this may become the only way of breaking this Brexit deadlock. And people certainly deserve the opportunity to elect a fresh Parliament and a new Government.