With 29 March now just weeks away, it’s time for every MP to think hard about what course of action is genuinely in the national interest. I campaigned for Remain, I voted to Remain, and two-thirds of my constituency backed Remain.
I believe this country would be better off staying in the EU, but Leave won. MPs then overwhelmingly backed triggering Article 50, and I, and every other one of my Labour colleagues, stood on a manifesto in 2017 promising to honour the referendum result.
I have been consistent in Parliament in seeking to meet that manifesto pledge and take Britain out of the EU in a way that protects our jobs and our country’s security. I don’t believe that a second referendum would honour that pledge, nor would a disastrous no-deal exit. I am therefore inclined to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal next week, and the package of measures she has announced today give me further reassurance.
I feared that Brexit, and the bonfire of rules and regulations that follows, might be seen by the Conservative government as an opportunity to scrap the hard-won rights of workers in this country. I know many of my colleagues share this concern, and I understand their continued cynicism and scepticism.
The UK has a long and proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights, with our Trade Unions pressing governments of all colours to put in place standards that far exceed the minimums set by the EU27. To her credit, the Prime Minister said from the outset that lowering these standards were not her ambition; but even if we were to trust this, the cast of hundreds lining up to replace her might not be so honourable.
So it is interesting that today the Government has pledged to put into legislation the right of the UK Parliament to consider any future changes in EU law that strengthen workers’ rights, and to give Parliament a vote on whether they too should be adopted into UK law. Not only that, the Government has committed to adopting the ‘Work Life Balance Directive’ even if it comes into force after the UK has left the EU. It provides important enforcement of rights for parents and carers, and a new single enforcement body with powers to protect agency workers and the most vulnerable workers. These measures seem to be not mere lip-service – these are said to be cast-iron guarantees, announced in Parliament and enshrined in legislation, that Labour MPs can legitimately claim to have helped secure.
Brexit has divided the country and our main political parties like no issue before it. That the Prime Minister has shown willingness to address the concerns of Labour MPs like me shows I hope that she understands this is the politics of today.
I don’t want to break our manifesto promise with talk of delays and another referendum, nor do I want to see the horrors that crashing out without a deal would inflict on the poorest in our society. When I speak to businesspeople, it is clear that their foremost concern is that Britain gets a deal and avoids no deal. The same also goes for employers in Northern Ireland and captains of industry from Canary Wharf to the retail sector. So I will be looking again at the Brexit deal next week – bolstered by the concessions on workers’ rights (and money for towns) – and I’d strongly urge my fellow Labour MPs to do the same.
Jim Fitzpatrick is the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse