I put forward an amendment which will hold Brexiteers to account – while Corbyn still refuses to condemn Brexit

We've all been lied to for a long time. Now I'm asking for an objective measure of the truth

Chuka Umunna
Monday 19 November 2018 15:33
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Brexit deal: Theresa May's draft withdrawal agreement explained

Last week the country was subject to the grotesque spectacle of the equivalent of a bunch of arsonists complaining about the roaring fire they were responsible for lighting. So Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Suella Braverman, among others, joined fellow Leave campaigners Boris Johnson and David Davis in resigning from the government to sit on the backbenches. Their complaint was that the prime minister has failed to square the circle of fantasy they sold the country in the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

David Cameron’s former speech writer, Ian Birrell, has usefully set out a selection of the ridiculous promises these Leave campaigners made on Twitter. In 2016 David Davis said of the Brexit negotiations, “It is like threading the eye of a needle. If you have a good eye and a steady hand, it is easy enough.” He was still promising all would be well in 2017, declaring that “we can get a free trade and customs agreement concluded before March 2019”.

Boris Johnson had promised “the people of this country” that Brexit would “save them money”. There was also Liam Fox’s pronouncement that reaching a deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” and Michael Gove’s pledge that “the day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards”.

Every single one of these promises have been broken.

It demands a special kind of idiocy to make such outlandish claims in the first place given how incredibly complex Brexit was always going to be. Above all, these people have no shame. It is convenient to blame an incompetent prime minister and government – of which all these people were a part – for the woes of Brexit. However, even the most competent of governments could not get Brexit to live up to its original billing because it cannot be delivered in the terms it was sold. The problem is Brexit – and they have no one to blame for the mess the country is in but themselves.

Another lifelong Eurosceptic, Jeremy Corbyn, is speaking to the business organisation the CBI late this afternoon. He disappointed many in the party with his statement yesterday that a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal – which an overwhelming majority of Labour members, supporters and voters support – is just “an option for the future” but “not an option for today” on Sky News.

Without hesitation, most Labour members would vote remain if there were a People’s Vote today, but the Labour leader said “I don’t know how I am going to vote” if there is one. This is consistent with what he told The Mirror last week when he said he did not see a People’s Vote “as a priority”.

Corbyn will tell the CBI today that Labour’s plan is for “a sensible jobs-first deal”, yet there is no form of Brexit that puts jobs first. He will say that “a sensible deal must guarantee a strong single market relationship”; this is, quite simply, impossible because the Labour frontbench has ruled out the UK joining the European Economic Area (EEA). Yes, he’ll reiterate that Labour is committed to “a new and comprehensive and permanent customs union” but this mainly covers goods whereas services (covered by the EEA) make up around 80 per cent of the UK’s economy. He says “a good Brexit plan for this country … Must also include a radical programme of investment and real change across our regions and nations”. We do not need to leave the EU to implement such a programme. At this time of national crisis, this is simply not good enough for a party which claims to be the voice of working people. The party’s current stance is not in keeping with our history of putting the labour interest first, which is why I will keep arguing for a different approach.

The bottom line is this: “a good Brexit plan” is a contradiction in terms, as every serious piece of economic research shows. This is, in part, why I tabled a cross-party amendment to the Finance Bill (which implements the government’s Budget). It will force ministers to publish a proper economic impact assessment of the withdrawal agreement reached between the PM and the EU before the big “meaningful vote” expected next month.

On 5 November, chancellor Phillip Hammond told the Treasury Select Committee that “we will publish cross-Whitehall analysis that will certainly include the proposed model, the deal that the government are putting before parliament for the meaningful vote. You will have that information.” But the leaked No 10 PR plan indicated that MPs would only be provided with a comparison between no deal and the withdrawal agreement.

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So our amendment to the bill – which has been signed by over 70 MPs from six different political parties – would force the government to publish an economic impact assessment of the withdrawal agreement, including a comparison between the current terms of the UK’s membership of the EU and what is proposed in the withdrawal agreement as the framework for the future relationship. It also provides for an assessment to be made between the current terms and a no-deal Brexit. The Office for Budget Responsibility would carry out an independent evaluation of the accuracy of that impact assessment.

In a big admission – given she has been peddling, for many weeks, the falsehood that the choice is between her deal and no deal – the PM conceded in the House of Commons last week that the country actually faces three choices: no Brexit; no deal; or her agreement. Therefore it is only right that MPs are provided with an economic analysis with a comparison between those options. Anything less would amount to pulling the wool over the eyes of parliamentarians and the people we represent.

Let parliament see the figures, and then MPs can weigh up just how bad the trajectory the country is on will be for our communities. Eleven Conservative MPs – enough to defeat the government – are supporting the amendment. It seems like a small amendment, but it could change everything.

Is there anyone better than Attenborough?

There is no better Sunday night viewing than jaw-dropping footage of wildlife narrated by Sir David Attenborough. If ever there was an advert for why the licence fee is worth it and why the BBC is such a treasured national institution, this is it.

Attenborough himself is a joy to listen to – when he is not the narrator, you can’t help thinking that the narrator is simply trying to copy him. In the latest Attenborough series, Dynasties, the viewer is taken on a journey through the lives of some of the most revered and yet endangered animals as they struggle against the elements. Last night we were treated to the lives of penguins in the Antarctic where temperatures drop below -50C. We saw how they give birth to their chicks, carry them about in their pouches and try to ensure they survive. It was gripping and heartrending viewing, and the imagery, as ever, completely breathtaking. Watch it on iPlayer here if you missed it.

Chuka Umunna is the Labour MP for Streatham

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