Stephen Twigg – 2018 Commons Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Twigg, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, in the House of Commons on 6 December 2018.

The city of Liverpool has been hit hard by austerity since 2010, with massive cuts in central Government funding hitting Liverpool City Council and its services and hitting the police service and the fire service, while benefit changes have hit the poorest hardest. Liverpool has also benefited enormously from membership of the European Union. Merseyside had Objective 1 status, which helped to bring significant investment to our communities. It is an outward-looking city, reflected in the heavy vote across the city two years ago to remain in the European Union—58% to 42%.

However, the divisions that we have discussed today nationally were reflected locally. My constituency saw a much narrower vote—the vote was not conducted by constituency, but my estimate is that it was probably about 52% remain and 48% leave. As we have heard rightly from both sides in this debate, some of the communities that have been hit hardest by poverty and austerity are those that had the highest leave votes. That was certainly the case in my constituency and that reflected many concerns—some about immigration and others about a sense of being left behind.

Those divisions clearly continue. They are reflected in my inbox, as I am sure they are in those of other Members. I have had constituents urging me in the last three weeks to vote for no deal because that would be better than this deal. Some want a people’s vote. Some people are coming to see me to support the deal, but a very clear majority view from my constituents is that we should reject this deal because it is bad for jobs, bad for rights and bad for living standards.

I voted remain and I campaigned hard for remain in my constituency, elsewhere in Liverpool, and in other parts of the north-west, but I accepted the result despite my great personal sense of disappointment. I voted in favour of triggering article 50 and I really wanted to see a serious negotiation to deliver on the referendum. I agree very strongly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who said on the opening day of this debate that

“history will record the Prime Minister’s red lines to have been an absolutely catastrophic mistake”.—[Official Report, 4 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 800.]

It would have been perfectly feasible to take a pragmatic, inclusive and flexible approach and reach out across the Chamber to all parties. The Government’s failure to do that has resulted in a political declaration which is vague and uncertain, and which, crucially, tells us very little about the key issues of frictionless trade. As a result, it is almost certain not only that this deal will be defeated next Tuesday, but that it will defeated by a substantial margin.​
After that vote, we shall have an historic responsibility and opportunity to forge a new way forward. I have signed both amendment (a), in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and amendment (i), in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central. Taken together, they could provide the basis for a way forward: rejecting the disastrous option of no deal, seeking instead a permanent customs union and a strong single market deal, and resolving to pursue every option to prevent no deal from happening.

It seems to me that there are two potential ways forward after the vote next Tuesday. Either we come together in the House, across party divides, and agree a position that can protect jobs, protect the rights of workers and standards in the environment and for consumers, and protect living standards. I believe we could achieve that with the good will of Government and Parliament working together. Otherwise, there will be no alternative but for us to take this back to the people, either in the form of an early general election or in the form of another referendum—a people’s vote.

The economic consequences of leaving without a deal could be disastrous. As others have said, they would hit the poorest areas hardest. I look at those areas of Liverpool’s economy, such as the car industry, health and life sciences, universities and the port. Those are the industries that would suffer most if we left without a deal, and regions such as the north-west would be hit hardest by a no deal Brexit. Yes, this deal is not the right deal, but let us come together and deliver the deal that really can protect jobs and rights across our country.