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Why I’m voting against the Brexit deal with the EU

The agreement will pass – but voting against it is how we keep alive the belief in something better, for our economy, our environment, and for Europe too

Caroline Lucas
Tuesday 29 December 2020 10:53 GMT
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Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?
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After a long and difficult year, we all needed something to cheer us this Christmas.

What we got instead was the prime minister, Boris Johnson, crowing about his Christmas gift to the nation, a Brexit deal which by every measure will leave us a poorer, more isolated nation.

As a former senior civil servant in the Department of Trade memorably warned, we have given up a three-course meal and what we’ve got in exchange is a packet of crisps.

This hardest of Brexit deals, for which there was no mandate – the first in history that increases barriers and costs rather than decreases them – is one that cuts British jobs, sidelines Britain’s service sector, undermines hard-won protections for the environment, workers’ rights and consumers, and turns Kent into a diesel-stained monument to hubris and political myopia.

I don’t remember any of that appearing on the side of a bus in 2016.

Brexit was a project launched with half-truths and worse, and it has ended the same way.  In his press conference on Christmas Eve, the prime minister claimed there would be no non-tariff barriers between the UK and the EU. Perhaps he could explain then why the government needs to recruit 50,000 new customs agents, if not to supervise and enforce trade barriers.

In one of his Daily Telegraph columns three days after the referendum, Johnson promised that people would still be able to live freely, work, study and settle down in the EU after Brexit. None of those things are true, and the decision to leave the Erasmus scheme – which he had promised as recently as January was not under threat – is an especially spiteful move, given that young people who are the main beneficiaries of the scheme voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.

The truth is this government, for all its weasel words about wanting a special relationship with the EU, has shredded that alliance.  And now it is asking parliament to approve a deal which does not deliver what was promised in the referendum, is worse for British business, has left the critical financial services industry high and dry, undermines people’s rights and fails to make the UK safer.

This is not a deal that has the explicit informed consent of the British people, nor is it a deal I can support.

And what of Global Britain? We will no longer be able to use our position as one of the EU’s most influential member states to persuade others to fight poverty, maximise global action against climate change and international terrorism, or contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

Our international policy is rudderless, and our overseas aid budget has been holed beneath the waterline, inflicting serious damage to our global reputation. On top of that, we’re condemned to living in a poorer, more unequal, more isolated Britain.

With the UK about to chair the G7, and host the critical UN climate summit in 2021, we should have spent recent years building bridges with our friends and allies. But this government has chosen instead to burn them.

It’s hard to imagine a more deliberate act of diplomatic and economic self-harm.

Because of Coronavirus, our country faces huge economic damage and the loss of millions of jobs. We cannot allow this to be weaponised by ministers to obscure the fact that the long term harm to our country’s economy is being done not by the pandemic, but by them.

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There are some who argue that those of us who voted down some less damaging forms of Brexit must take some responsibility. I can see that argument. But given such a narrow referendum result, on the back of such a mendacious political campaign, and on an issue of such profound national importance, I believe it was right to campaign for a confirmatory referendum on the terms of our departure.

Nor do I believe that voting against this deal is tantamount to supporting a no-deal Brexit. With the government enjoying a majority of 80, this deal will pass. But it will never have my support.

I regret Labour’s decision to vote for a deal that they admit will make this country poorer and hit the most vulnerable hardest of all. Now, more than ever, people deserve principled leadership based on conviction, not political calculation.  

And while I understand why some would prefer to abstain, abstention is still acquiescence. It is standing aside and allowing something to be passed into law which is plainly wrong for our country. And there are some things so serious and so damaging to which we should not acquiesce.

At this time of climate and nature emergency, I am not prepared to acquiesce to lower environmental standards and less rigorous enforcement of them.

And I will not be complicit in the creation of a smaller United Kingdom with diminished global influence.

Voting for this deal would giving my approval to what I believe is a grotesque mistake of historic proportions. Tragically too late, opinion polls indicate that a clear majority of people in this country now agree.  

The EU is not perfect, but it is a project based on one of modern history’s greatest and most noble experiments – bringing nations together to build peace out of the ruins of war.  We were a valued part of that project, delivering huge benefits to this country and to our EU partners. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has rightly called Brexit a lose-lose but the bigger loser is the UK.

This government will win in the division lobbies and this deal will pass.  My vote will make no difference to that.  But voting against it is how we keep alive the belief in something better, for our economy, our environment, and for Europe too. 

It’s how we register our support for a world that recognises that only by pooling our sovereignty with those who share our values can we tackle the daunting challenges that face us all.

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