Helen Hayes resigns from Labour front bench after defying Keir Starmer in Brexit vote

Katherine Johnston (30 December, 2020)

'This is a bad deal which will make our country poorer' - Helen Hayes

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Helen Hayes and Florence Eshalomi both resigned from their front bench roles after defying Keir Starmer to abstain in today’s Brexit trade deal vote. 

Debated in the House of Commons this afternoon, just days after being announced by Boris Johnson, the UK-EU trade deal was passed by a majority of 448.

The Labour leader had whipped Labour MPs to support the deal; one he admitted was ‘thin’ but necessary for the country to move forward and avoid the chaos of no deal.

Thirty-seven of Starmer’s MPs defied him including three shadow cabinet members who abstained: Dulwich and West Norwood MP Hayes, Vauxhall’s Eshalomi, and Tonia Antoniazzi, the member for Gower. 

Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle also abstained. One Labour MP voted against the bill – Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy.

Coyle said: “Those celebrating today include foreign businesses who have been gifted an advantage over British jobs and our economy.”

Alongside the huge number of jobs not covered by the deal – referencing those in financial services – he said other industries faced new checks and regulatory requirements. “All of that bureaucracy comes at a cost,” he explained.

Coyle also believes the deal is a gift to the SNP: “I don’t think that nationalism a healthy ideology. Yet Scottish nationalists will be celebrating and trying to divide the United Kingdom. Scexit following Brexit.”

He added that the United Kingdom was also more divided due to the new customs and regulatory sea border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

 

Hayes, who represents a constituency with one of the the highest proportions of Remain voters in the country, described the short notice and rushed debate as a ‘national disgrace’ and ‘insult to every citizen of the UK’.

She said that although she will continue in her role as MP and support Labour’s leadership, she accepted not supporting the bill made her position as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister untenable.

“Brexit has been the overwhelmingly dominant issue in our political landscape ever since I was first elected as the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood in 2015,” she said in the statement, published this evening.

“I have made commitments at each of the three elections in which I have been a parliamentary candidate, to keep representing the views and values of my constituents on Brexit, and I have made these commitments a clear personal priority.

“As such, I cannot reconcile support for this bill today with the personal commitments I have made to my constituents when I asked them to vote for me.  

“I accept that the deal is better than the no deal Brexit which the Prime Minister recklessly threatened, and I will not therefore oppose it. 

“But this is the Prime Minister’s deal, a weak and thin Tory deal, the withered fruit of a negotiation conducted in a spirit of bombastic, ideological superiority rather than a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and internationalism. 

“A different negotiation would and should have yielded a far better outcome.”

The deal’s key weaknesses include its lack of arrangements for financial services – a key sector in London and the UK economy as a whole – watered-down commitments to workers rights and environmental protections, and the loss of European-wide enforcement and data sharing via organisations such as Europol.

The deal has also been rejected by the devolved nations – including Northern Ireland’s DUP.

However Harriet Harman, the Camberwell and Peckham MP, was among those to vote for the deal in the absence of a viable alternative before the deadline.

 

Helen Hayes’ statement in full

Today the House of Commons has been given just five hours to debate and scrutinise the trade deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU and the implementation legislation.  Fewer than one in ten MPs have had the opportunity to speak in the debate on legislation which will have profound implications for our economy and national life for years, if not decades to come.  I was not successful in the ballot to speak in the debate, so I have published the speech that I would have given here, setting out why I cannot support the bill and have therefore chosen to abstain.

“The Prime Minister’s prevarication and brinkmanship have resulted in the House of Commons being given just five hours to debate and scrutinise a 40 clause Bill and a 1,200 page Treaty today, both of which will have profound implications for our economy and national life for many years, if not decades to come. 

That is nothing short of a national disgrace, a contempt for this Parliament and an insult to every citizen of the UK that MPs here are elected to represent, the complexity and diversity of whose views and experiences cannot possibly be given voice in such a short amount of time.

It is absolutely clear that the trade deal now in front of us could have been agreed many months ago. The range of issues to be resolved, the red lines of the negotiating parties, and the remedies and compromises available are all well known. 

Had the Prime Minister chosen, Parliament could have spent the Autumn undertaking detailed line by line scrutiny of the Bill, informed by full consideration of the trade deal itself. 

A different timescale would also have allowed time for detailed preparation for the changes that the country will face on 1 January 2021, instead of the chaos and last-minute scrambling that we now witness. 

With the very limited time allowed by the Prime Minister to consider the deal, I have sought to listen to the views of as many of my constituents as possible, with thousands of them actively sharing their thoughts in the past week.  I am grateful to everyone who has been in touch and for the many thoughtful and considered comments that my constituents have made.

In 2016, my constituents voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU, and many still feel a deep sense of pain and loss at the referendum result and the reality of Brexit.  But they also understand that the vote today, and the UK’s trade deal with the EU is not the same issue.  Brexit cannot be undone or revisited by the votes today. The UK’s future is, for now, outside of the European Union.

The question today is whether the Prime Minister’s deal secures the best possible future relationship with the EU and whether it is the fullest expression of our ambition and our values. 

Clearly, it is not.  

It is the only trade deal in our history which does not bring us closer to our trading partners but increases our isolation.  And it does so at a time when across so many issues, from coronavirus to climate change, and from security to the digital economy, increased collaboration and cooperation across international borders is more important than ever.

This is a bad deal which will make our country poorer.  It will cost jobs, undermine our security, weaken our standing in the world, risk workers’ rights and environmental protections and limit opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

The deal contains no substantive arrangements for trade in services, which make up 80% of our economy, and in which a majority of my constituents are employed.  Even the Prime Minister has been forced to admit that it falls short on financial services. 

The digital sector, one of the growth engines of the modern economy, is particularly poorly served. And the provisions on non-regression on workers’ rights and environmental standards are weak and will be difficult to enforce.

The Prime Minister and the Tories are content to put our security at threat by forfeiting the UK’s membership of Europol, Eurojust, the European Arrest Warrant and real-time sensitive data-sharing agreements such as the Schengen Information System (SIS2) without any provisions to replace them in this deal.

The deal continues the UK government’s attack on international aid, providing no framework for collaboration with our European neighbours on the delivery of aid to the world’s poorest regions.

In a completely unnecessary blow, entirely a political choice of the Prime Minister, young people in the UK will now be denied the opportunity to study and attend work placements in EU countries under the Erasmus programme, narrowing their horizons. The Prime Minister’s alternative is an underfunded pale imitation.

Brexit has been the overwhelmingly dominant issue in our political landscape ever since I was first elected as the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood in 2015.  I have made commitments at each of the three elections in which I have been a parliamentary candidate, to keep representing the views and values of my constituents on Brexit, and I have made these commitments a clear personal priority.

As such, I cannot reconcile support for this bill today with the personal commitments I have made to my constituents when I asked them to vote for me.  I accept that the deal is better than the no deal Brexit which the Prime Minister recklessly threatened, and I will not therefore oppose it. 

But this is the Prime Minister’s deal, a weak and thin Tory deal, the withered fruit of a negotiation conducted in a spirit of bombastic, ideological superiority rather than a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and internationalism. A different negotiation would and should have yielded a far better outcome.

It has been a privilege to serve as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister for the past nine months. I accept that in deciding not to follow the whip, I can no longer serve on the Opposition Front Bench and with much regret I have offered my resignation today. 

My Rt Hon Friend, the Leader of the Opposition has my full support and I will continue to work tirelessly and with all my heart from the back benches not only to represent my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood, but to secure a Labour government with my Rt Hon Friend as Prime Minister at the earliest possible opportunity.

Today is without a doubt a watershed moment, in the long and sad road to Brexit.  The UK’s future outside of the European Union is settled and the basis of our future relationship agreed. 

What matters now is the future vision for our country which brings people together and offers hope. A path out of the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought, our ambition for a green, zero carbon economy with high quality jobs, for the rebuilding of our public services and the re-empowerment of our communities which will help to build a fair and just society.  That is the Labour vision that I will work to build.”

 

Contribute
John Davies says:

I fear Labour could become a force again with all these democracy hating self serving MPs resigning. Neil Coyle, Helen Hayes and Florence Eshalomi are one of the main reasons Labour are unelectable

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