Twenty-two months ago, I sat in this Chamber listening to arguments from both sides of the House about the triggering of article 50. It was a difficult decision, but I voted against that motion at the conclusion of the debate, because I was not convinced that the Government had a proper plan for Brexit. I take no satisfaction in being proved right. The Prime Minister’s failure to unite the country, focusing instead on trying to satisfy the warring factions in her own party, is a terrible failure of leadership just when our disunited kingdom really needed that leadership.
At the 2017 general election, I reassured my constituents that, while I respected the referendum result, I would not give any Prime Minister a blank cheque. I promised to stand up for my constituents and fight for the best deal for Nottingham South—one that would not leave them worse off, less secure at work and with fewer opportunities in the future. This deal does not deliver on those promises. Conservative Members remain bitterly divided about what kind of Brexit they want. They have failed to build a consensus within their party, within Parliament and within the country. They have not listened, and the people whom I represent, particularly those on low incomes, are likely to suffer most if we leave the EU on the Prime Minister’s terms.
As UN special rapporteur Philip Alston warned two weeks ago in his report on extreme poverty and human rights, the lowest paid will bear the brunt of the economic fallout from Brexit. My constituents were promised “the sunlit uplands”, hundreds of millions of pounds every week for our NHS, the easiest trade deal ever, taking back control of our borders and a return to sovereignty. We now know what the reality looks like. As the Chancellor admitted, our country will be worse off under all Brexit scenarios. Far from delivering more money for schools, to tackle poverty and for our NHS, we will all be poorer, with fewer opportunities, and our public services will suffer. They did not put that on the side of a bus.
The deal that the Prime Minister has reached satisfies no one and seems increasingly unlikely to command a majority in this House, and yet she is in complete denial. She has repeatedly refused to explain what she will do when her deal is defeated. That is utterly reckless, putting the future of my constituents and our country at risk.
I intend to vote against this deal because it fails to protect the interests of the people, the businesses and the city that I represent. Nottingham South is home to two world-class universities. They are vital to our city’s success and matter deeply to the thousands of students and staff I represent. The University of Nottingham told me that the “impact of the decision to leave the EU has already had negative implications for the University. We have noticed a decline in student numbers at postgraduate level. EU staff report feelings of demotivation and alienation in a country they have chosen to call home and have made a massive contribution towards. We have noticed a number of examples where industry collaborators have put investment into joint R&D programmes on hold or have cancelled them. If the UK’s participation and status in the Horizon Europe scientific research programme isn’t confirmed in time, then there is a significant risk that we and the major businesses and SMEs that work with us will be locked out of the major part of this programme going forwards.”
It is not only our universities that are threatened. The Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust recently published reports on the impact that Brexit will have both on their staff and on the supply of medicines. Thanks to this Government’s cuts to nurse training bursaries and the failure to value NHS staff, we have a recruitment crisis. Non-British EU staff make up 4.4% of the hospitals workforce—690 staff, including 214 nurses and midwives. These are people we desperately want and need working in our NHS but, as reported in the Nottingham Post yesterday, despite immediate reassurances issued by the trust following the referendum, these EU citizens “feel that they have been forgotten and are unsettled and anxious because of the uncertainty of their employment due to Brexit.”
It is no wonder when they are characterised as “queue jumpers”. The trust also reports that a no-deal Brexit may affect the timely supply of goods, services and medicines, which could disrupt health and social care services.
Businesses across Nottingham, in both manufacturing and services, are equally worried about recruiting skilled staff, about their supply chains and about access to markets. This is not what my leave-voting constituents were promised. Here is what one of my constituents from the Clifton estate says:
“We are headed for a Brexit that nobody voted for…a million miles away from what was promised in 2016. It threatens jobs, businesses and hospitals here in our constituency; it will mean no end to austerity for years to come…it will do nothing to deal with…the real challenges facing our local area. In fact, it will make dealing with those problems harder.”
The answer to those challenges is a Labour Government who are determined to tackle the poverty, insecurity and fear that drove so many of my constituents to vote leave. A general election would give people a real opportunity to have their say, not only on this bad deal but on this bad Government, but if we cannot have an election, maybe it is time to ask the people what they think. Parliament does not support this deal, and Parliament will not support a catastrophic no deal. If the Prime Minister will not listen to Parliament, maybe it is time to listen to the people.