Thank you Mr Speaker. This has been a vitally important debate for the future of our country and our future relationship with the European Union following the decision of the people in the 2016 referendum.
The debate today is the culmination of one of the most chaotic and extraordinary parliamentary processes I have experienced in my 35 years as a member.
Parliament has held the government in contempt for the first time ever for failing to publish their legal advice.
Then for the first time in a generation or more, on 10th December a government failed to move its own business in the House.
The government has been defeated on a vote on its own Finance Bill for the first time since the 1970s.
The Prime Minister opened the debate on her deal more than a month ago – a debate which was due to end on 11th December, but she pulled it in a panic, as she herself conceded it would have been rejected by a significant margin.
She has run down the clock in a cynical attempt to strong-arm members into backing her deal.
Despite her promises, she has failed to negotiate any changes to her deal with Europe.
No wonder the Prime Minister has suddenly discovered the importance of trade unions, and, having voted to clip their wings in the 2016 Trade Union Act, she has utterly failed to convince them that she has anything to offer Britain’s workforce.
And this is the heart of the matter: The Prime Minister has treated Brexit as a matter for the Conservative Party rather than for the good of the country.
But she has failed to even win over her own party. Many Conservative members who voted Remain are opposed to this deal, as are dozens of Conservative members who voted Leave.
After losing her majority in the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister could have engaged with members across this House. She could have listened to the voices of trade unions.
And if she had been listening, both businesses and trade unions would have told her that they wanted a comprehensive and permanent customs union to secure jobs and trade.
The decision to rule out a new customs union with a British say, and the lack of certainty in the deal risks business investment being deferred on an even greater scale, threatening jobs and living standards.
Or even worse, it risks many companies relocating abroad, taking jobs and investment with them.
Mr Speaker, many workers know exactly this situation, because they are facing this reality now their jobs are at risk.
Both the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland have also made clear to the Prime Minister their support for a customs union to protect the jobs and the economy.
This deal fails to provide any certainty about future trade.
It fails to guarantee our participation in European agencies and initiatives. Losing this co-operation undermines our security, denies our citizens opportunities, and damages our industries.
Mr Speaker, the Withdrawal Agreement is a reckless leap in the dark.
It takes the country no closer to understanding our post-Brexit future, and neither does the Future Partnership document.
Under this deal, in December 2020 we will be faced with a choice: either pay more and extend the transition period, or lock us into the backstop.
At that point, the UK would be over a barrel. We would have left the EU, have lost the UK rebate, and be forced to pay whatever was demanded.
Alternatively, the backstop would come into force; an arrangement for which there is no time limit or end point. It locks Britain into a deal from which it cannot leave without the agreement of the EU.
The last two years gives us no confidence that this government can do a deal in under two years. So, at some point before December 2020, the focus would then inevitably shift from negotiations on the future relationship, to negotiations on an extension to the transition period including negotiating what further payments we should make to the EU.
The vague Future Partnership document says it: “can lead to a spectrum of different outcomes … as well as checks and controls”. There is no clarity whatsoever.
And there is not even any mention of the “frictionless trade” promised in the Chequers proposals.
The former Brexit Secretary promised a “detailed”, “precise” and “substantive” document. The Government spectacularly failed to deliver it.
So I confirm that Labour will vote against this deal tonight because it is a bad deal for Britain.
And as we have heard over the past week, members in all parties – including many in the Conservative Party – will join us in rejecting this botched and damaging deal.
And I welcome the fact that there is a clear majority to reject any “No Deal” outcome. The amendment to the Finance Bill last week demonstrated that.
But it is not enough for this House to vote against the deal before us and against No Deal. We also have to be for something.
So, Mr Speaker, in the coming days it is vital that this House has the opportunity to debate and vote on the way forward, to consider all the options available.
The overwhelming majority of this House voted to respect the result of the referendum, and therefore to trigger Article 50.
So I say this to our negotiating partners in the EU: If Parliament votes down this deal, then re-opening negotiations should not, and cannot, be ruled out.
We understand why after two frustrating years of negotiations you want this resolved, but this Parliament has only one duty – to represent the interests of the people of Britain. And the deal negotiated by this Government does not meet their needs.
The people of Britain include many EU nationals who have made their lives here. These are people who have contributed to our country, to our economy, and to our public services, especially our NHS. And those people are now anxious and have no faith in this government to manage the process of Settled Status fairly or efficiently, and the early pilots of the scheme are very far from encouraging.
The Prime Minister claimed that this is a good deal, and so confident was she of that that she refused to publish the government’s legal advice. But, her government’s own economic assessment clearly tells us it is a bad deal.
This deal is the product of two years of botched negotiations in which the government spent more time arguing with itself than it did negotiating with the European Union.
And it’s not only on Brexit where they have failed.
Under this government more people are living in poverty, including half a million more children. Homelessness has risen every year; too many people are stuck in low paid and insecure work; too many people are struggling to make ends meet and falling into debt.
Nothing in this Brexit deal – and nothing on offer from this Government – will solve that.
And that is why Labour believes that a general election would be the best outcome for the country if this deal is rejected tonight.
We need to keep in mind that the vast majority of people in our country don’t think of themselves ‘Remainers’ or ‘Leavers’.
Whether they voted Leave or Remain two and a half years ago, they are concerned about their future.
So Mr Speaker, I hope tonight that this House votes down this deal and then we move to a general election so that the people can take back control and give a new government the mandate needed to break the deadlock.
But first Mr Speaker, I ask the House to vote against this deal – a bad deal for our economy, a bad deal for our democracy, and a bad deal for Britain.