It’s vital Britain secures an EU trade deal for our future growth and economic stability
We need to work with our European neighbours to deal with the great global challenges we face like fighting coronavirus, tackling dangerous climate change and protecting our security, writes Hilary Benn MP. | PA Images
The consequences of Brexit for business and the economy will be bad for future growth at a time when we are already facing an economic crisis because of Covid. Securing an EU trade deal, even a thin one, will be better than leaving without a deal at all.
With just 41 days to go until the end of the transition period, we are still waiting for the deal with the EU that the government has repeatedly promised.
I’ve always thought that there would in the end be an agreement, not least because it would be a huge failure of political leadership if there isn’t, but the negotiators are certainly leaving it late as the clock runs down.
Labour has always rightly said that to crash out with no deal would be very damaging for the economy. It would make life even more difficult for many British businesses than Brexit will do anyway. Hitting industries from farming to manufacturing, increasing food prices, putting jobs at risk when unemployment is already rising sharply and undermining the Good Friday Agreement.
While we all focus on the negotiations, another story is unfolding about the huge change that will take place from 1 January, whether there is a deal or not, because that’s when we leave the single market and the customs union. It’s a change that ministers have failed to prepare for.
Businesses that trade with the EU say that they’re not sure exactly what it is they are meant to be preparing for, apart from the certainty of more red tape
In the last few weeks, we’ve heard about potential problems with food supplies in Northern Ireland. Trucks not having the right paperwork, long queues at the border in Kent, infrastructure and IT systems not being ready and our security being weakened because it seems we are going to lose access to vital EU police databases. Week after week in our select committee, businesses that trade with the EU say that they’re not sure exactly what it is they are meant to be preparing for, apart from the certainty of more red tape, new forms and extra cost.
We know all of these will be inevitable consequences of Brexit. Even if ministers deny it, this will be bad for future growth at a time when we are already facing an economic crisis because of Covid.
I want a deal not only because I’ve heard from those who would be most affected what no deal would actually mean. Also, because even if it is a thin deal – as I fear – it will make things better than they would otherwise be for some important parts of our economy who desperately want to avoid tariffs.
That’s why, if there is a deal, the public and our friends in Europe will expect Parliament to vote for it, including Labour, and I can see why. That wouldn’t, however, prevent us from criticising the adverse consequences of Brexit itself as they unfold. After all, we opposed Brexit as not being in the interests of the country. These consequences will rest with the Prime Minister and the Leave campaign who promised us the earth and have instead undermined our economy.
But what about the years ahead? Now we have left the EU, the question is what kind of relationship do we want to have with our biggest, nearest and most important neighbours in future?
I think we should be looking for as close an economic and political relationship as possible because that’s in everyone’s interests. As well as being much better for jobs, investment and families, we need to work with our European neighbours to deal with the great global challenges we face like fighting coronavirus, tackling dangerous climate change and protecting our security. So, whatever happens, I don’t think this will be the end of negotiations with the EU, but the beginning of a new relationship.
Brexit has proved to be incredibly divisive, with strongly held views on both sides, but it’s now happened. It’s time for Labour to move on and make the case for our United Kingdom to forge better trading relationships near and far and to invest in a stronger economic future that will create jobs and improve the lives of all our citizens, including those whose trust and confidence we will need to win back in order to form a government once again.
Hilary Benn is the Labour MP for Leeds Central and chair of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union.