I campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union; I did this because I wanted to safeguard jobs, rights and our influential position inside the European Union. But, 17.4m people voted for Brexit and they voted because of deep discontent with the current system.
No one voted on June 23rd with the expectation that a group of politicians would overturn that result, that would send a very dangerous signal about our democracy. The challenge now is to hold the Government to account on the terms of exit and our relationship with our European partners.
I will not be voting to frustrate Brexit but that does not mean that we will give the Government a blank check to tear up our rights, jobs, funding and the reciprocal access which businesses small and large rely on with our largest market, far from it. Labour want to see a plan in writing from the Government so we can hold them to account as the negotiations are ongoing and then we want to see a meaningful vote on the negotiated agreement. Otherwise the Government could utterly botch the negotiations and be given a completely free hand to press ahead regardless. That would be wrong.
That will enable us to hold the Government to account on what their plan means for jobs, protections, rights and to safeguard the interests of working people.
For small businesses, for UK citizens abroad and for many millions of other people, the uncertainty is causing considerable concern. I do not doubt that it is forcing businesses to put off investment decisions. The business confidence index, which is at a four year low, indicates that businesses in Britain see economic uncertainty as the greatest threat.
That's why we will hold the Government to account in the difficult months and years ahead and I do not believe anybody – whether they voted leave or remain – would accept a weakening of the UK’s position after Brexit. That means:
· The rights for working people which were enshrined in EU law should be guaranteed and beefed up once we leave;
· The funding which came to areas like Sheffield through the European Union funds to curb poverty and unemployment should be provided by the United Kingdom Government.
· The EU research funding which came to our city and made our two universities world leaders are guaranteed.
· And more than this, the Leave campaigners made a number of specific promises in the referendum. Chief among those was the claim that when we leave the European Union £350m a week will be made available for the NHS; many people voted for Leave with this at the forefront of their mind and it would be a betrayal if the NHS does not see that £350m after Brexit.
· Access to the skilled workers that our public sector and leading industries rely on
· Regulatory and legal certainty
I am determined to see that the voice of workers and Sheffield businesses are heard. That's why I have criticised the government for presiding over a Brexit that seems determined to be decided in Whitehall and the boardroom of City firms. There is just one non-London civil servant at the leading Brexit departments and there can be little doubt that certain sectors will have a far more influential say over the future trading relationships if things continue as they are.
So I've called for a Brexit hub to be established in the North of England and for a negotiating committee comprising of businesses small and large, leading politicians and trade unions so we can make our voice heard. Workers and small businesses make our country and the government should be doing their utmost to put them at the heart of their plan.
The Government are refusing to be honest about the scale of the challenge we face for fear of receiving the ire of the tabloid press. If their perspective becomes increasingly closed then they will end up making errors which businesses will have to live with for many decades to come. Each option is difficult and presents its own trade-offs but I am concerned if they push for a customs union deal, for instance, then they may only pursue tariff free access for big businesses and certain industries without considering the impact on other businesses.
That's why they need an open discussion.
There is no more important issue facing Britain than the terms of our departure from the EU, and it is vital that there is scrutiny and accountability on the terms of our exit.
The Labour Party as the main opposition has an especially important responsibility to ensure that the government seeks opinions from across society in the difficult decisions ahead. That’s why I responded on behalf of Labour on the frontbench in the House of Commons lastyear on this precise issue (watch here). I was clear that Parliament needs to have a say and a vote over the UK’s negotiating strategy. This was an enormously divisive referendum and people were being asked to vote for issues on half-truths.
In my view, we must seek continued access to the single market on the best possible terms. I also strongly believe that the Government should immediately guarantee the status of EU nationals who are currently living and working in the UK and contributing so much to our society.
I hope the Government will refrain from the divisive and hostile tones on these discussions that we have seen and i will continue to do my part to hold the Government to account on this vital issue.