On Thursday (14 June) I voted against the government and my own party in the Commons to support Britain retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) if we leave the European Union (EU). I want to tell you why.
There are some people who just want us to leave every single part of the EU now, today. Most people though accept that we need a good working relationship with them into the future and that means some kind of formal links and agreements.
There’s two things you have to understand about the single market. Firstly, it is essential to the British economy. Half of all our exports go there and the majority of our service sector exports (a sector which account for 80 per cent of the British economy) go there too.
Secondly, the single market is an organisation that is entirely based on laws and those laws are upheld by a court. This means it can’t be tinkered with.
So when people tell you we can get rid of all the obligations that come with the single market but keep all the benefits, just bear in mind that to do so would mean all remaining 27 countries having to agree to change the law to give Britain perks which they themselves don’t have.
It simply is not going to happen.
That is why the promises of both parties on the single market are simply not realistic to me.
The Tories are promising “the exact same benefits” and Labour are promising “no new impediments to trade and common rights” but we know as fact that neither are possible if we leave the EU entirely.
The EEA is another legal structure that allows access to the single market. It excludes agriculture and fisheries and is a much simpler organisation.
It’s not perfect but is has one massive advantage above the promises being made in parliament right now … it actually exists!
But joining it and retaining our membership of the customs union means that British businesses that export to the EU or have components that are shipped in from the EU to make things like cars will all be safe. That is crucial.
It seems to me that too many politicians are standing up and making arguments that suit the needs of their parties right now. But promises that are designed to keep a party together in the course of a week will not keep our economy together once they are tested in the cold reality of negotiations as the seconds count down to us leaving the EU.
I have said many times that I will never do something that I believe in my heart could damage our community.
On Thursday that led me to vote against my own party but my conscience is clear because I have looked at this issue in huge detail and have come to the conclusion that we are heading into huge and damaging uncertainty – and institutions such as the EEA can offer safety to our economy in very troubled times.
Finally there’s one more thing I just want to clear up. People have said to me this week, “you’re just doing this to thwart Brexit.”
I want to be really clear where I stand on this.
I think Brexit is going badly wrong. I believe that the only way to fully protect our economy and exploit the potential we have as a country is to remain in the EU but exercise more of the freedoms that exist around migration.
If there was a way to stop it, I would. But that doesn’t mean that I’m so stupid that I won’t work hard to make Brexit – if it does happen – be as least damaging to our economy, our reputation and our country as possible.
I voted against Article 50 because, as I said at the time, I didn’t believe our government was equipped for the negotiations to follow.
I feel more than vindicated on that decision seeing as 18 months have passed and they’re still not equipped despite the process coming to an end soon. And this week I tried, but failed, to get us to go for the EEA as an option that’s on the table and is a workable way forward.
So just because I oppose Brexit doesn’t mean I’m not able to work hard at ensuring responsible decisions are made in the event that it does go ahead.
As far as I can see there is only one thing that is truly undermining Brexit and that is this government completely and comprehensively failing to deliver on the promises they made to you.
If they are, then why would they fear a vote in Parliament or a “people’s vote” on the final deal?
If they fail to deliver, then they should not be surprised when I spend every waking hour doing whatever it takes to keep the community that elected me safe from the damage it could do.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.
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