I wanted to share with you my sadness, and the grief that many of us feel today, about leaving the EU.
This post-war European project of which we were a part was built on our common desire for peace, democracy and human rights – as well as for prosperity.
It was a project which gave us the confidence to forge deep friendships across the channel which is why the hurt this cold December is so acute.
For decades now we have worked, loved, travelled and lived in each other’s countries as if we were at home. For our young people, studying and staying in mainland Europe was so normal that it must feel they are losing something they never knew was there to be lost.
With all that in mind, it is with a heavy heart that I voted for the deal today.
Since 2016 I have repeatedly said that any deal we reach would be a poor imitation of the deal we had as members of the European Union – and that is particularly true with this thin deal.
It is all a far cry from the comprehensive “oven ready” deal Boris Johnson promised the British people in last year’s general election.
I know that many of my constituents in Hornsey and Wood Green, and in the wider European movement, wanted Labour to abstain in this vote. Many have felt that this is a Tory deal, and that they should own it and any damage which will come of it.
I understand that view.
But since the referendum in 2016 – alongside fighting tooth and nail to secure a second referendum – I have also been clear that I will never do anything to increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.
This deal is the only deal on the table, and it gives a basis for a future working relationship with Europe. Voting for the deal is the only way for us to move forward. A no-deal outcome, if Parliament rejected this deal, would have been devasting to our economy and our society, and it would have been the most deprived communities who would have felt the damage the most.
A no-deal Brexit would also have put at risk the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland and the stability of the United Kingdom, furthering demands for independence in Scotland and Wales.
As MPs, we have a duty to do what we can to avoid this disaster and voting for the deal is the only way we can avoid a no-deal outcome and prevent catastrophic economic damage which will take decades to recover from.
Let me be clear – voting for this deal does not mean I believe this is the best outcome. I am angry that Boris Johnson has failed to defend the interests of our country, and the failures of this Brexit must be laid at his door.
But it gives our businesses and our industry the certainty that they need to plan their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the reasons Unite urged MPs to back it, and there is now a building block from which a new relationship can be built and a Labour Government can reach further agreements with the EU on workers’ rights, environmental standards, and close cooperation.
I desperately wish there had been a different outcome.
I wish that we had been able to secure a second referendum, and I would have campaigned for Remain with the vigour and passion as I did in the 2016 vote.
But that, sadly, was not to be and we are in this situation now.
My priority now, as your MP and as Labour’s shadow Europe Minister, is to work as hard as ever to build close relationships with our European friends and partners to restore trust and realise our joint vision of a Europe committed to fairness, prosperity, and peace.
Catherine West MP