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As Brexit problems mount, Labour will shine a laser on broken Conservative promises

4 min read

Our critique of Johnson’s deal is not simply about accountability but setting out our vision for a better relationship with the rest of Europe.

Boris Johnson looked this week for new alliances in his search for Global Britain, but it’s the damage he’s done to our most longstanding relationship that remains the biggest concern. However much his Brexit champion Lord Frost talks about ‘teething problems’, it’s increasingly clear that his flawed deal will have a long-term impact.  

It should come as no surprise. When setting out their negotiating options, the government predicted that an FTA of this sort would shrink the economy by 5%. Boris Johnson chose this course, which the OBR expect to hit the economy by 4%, causing greater long-term harm than Covid-19. There may have been other factors affecting January’s figures but ONS data showed a sharp contrast in the drop of EU exports – 38%, compared with the 8% fall in non-EU exports. The OBR confirmed their estimate that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement will hit productivity by around 4%.

Companies in my constituency have joined others across the country in setting up in the EU to avoid the extra costs and bureaucracy required to do business. They tell me those EU bases will become their main trade hubs and service markets across the globe. Musicians have made a powerful case for flexible work permits and young people seeking jobs will see their horizons limited when travel resumes after the pandemic.

Our amendment seeking economic impact assessments for the deal aimed to provide the frictionless trade in goods that the Tories once promised

The Tories’ decision to close down Hilary Benn’s formidable Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU underlined the importance of Keir Starmer’s Christmas Eve commitment to hold them to account for the deal. Labour’s amendments to the EU (Future Relationship) Bill – which gave the Conservatives’ deal a legal footing – could not be debated under their shamefully truncated procedure on 30th December, but set the framework for accountability.

Our amendment seeking economic impact assessments for the deal, repeated in Rachel Reevesrecent call to the OBR, aimed to focus attention where action would be needed, to provide the frictionless trade in goods, that the Tories once promised, and a proper agreement on services going beyond the financial and legal sectors. Labour shadow ministers Lucy Powell and Jack Dromey are collating a bank of case studies of businesses and jobs affected, to highlight the issues which must be addressed.

Seeking an arrangement for performing artists to work unimpeded across the EU was another of our amendments. Labour’s shadow culture minister, Alison McGovern, continues to shine a light on this failure, calling on government to provide a solution for performers, but the issues extend well beyond this sector.

Securing access to the SIS II security alerts database, used by police 1.6 million times a day to keep our country safe; extending non-divergence on protections for workers and the environment beyond the impact on trade and investment provided in the agreement; and continuing participation in the Erasmus programme were among our other amendments which aimed to highlight wider problems.

As the flaws in our new relationship with Europe are laid bare, Labour will continue to press these issues  – as Ed Miliband has on workers’ rights, Daniel Zeichner on environmental standards, Yvette Cooper on security cooperation, and Taiwo Owatemi on the government’s poor replacement for Erasmus+.  

Inside or outside the EU, we remain a European country with a shared history, shared values, and shared interests. Our critique of Johnson’s deal is not simply about accountability but setting out our vision for a better relationship with the rest of Europe, and how Labour will build on the deal we inherit in government. It is a part of our ambition for our country, for the continent we share, and for our place in the world.


Paul Blomfield is the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, former shadow Brexit minister from 2016 to 2020, and is an executive committee member of the Labour Movement for Europe.

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