CAMPAIGNING FOR CLOSER
TIES WITH EUROPE
WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING
Many constituents frequently contact me about the ongoing impact of Brexit on the economy, both nationally and locally here in East Kent. I know that there at a lot of people in Canterbury, Whitstable and the Villages who still feel very strongly about this issue, and issues around Brexit still make up a large section of my postbag, three years after the UK officially left the EU.
As I’m sure you will know, I fought the last general election on a platform of being in favour of a second confirmatory referendum to let the British people have their say on the Government’s Brexit deal. Unfortunately, as Labour did not win the election and Boris Johnson achieved a parliamentary majority, Brexit went ahead without a second referendum.
During the subsequent votes on Johnson’s deal in December 2020, I abstained as while I could not endorse a No Deal scenario, I could not in good conscience back a deal that I knew to be fundamentally flawed and damaging to our economy and our society.
Every week, I hear from local businesses whose operations have been massively affected by the ill-thought-out Brexit deal, and from people who are struggling to spend time with their families or work on the continent as a result of rules around access to the Schengen area.
As a member of the House of Commons Environment select committee, I have seen the impact of the Brexit deal on agriculture, fisheries, and environmental protections. We see repeated missed opportunities for the UK, given our so-called ‘post-Brexit freedoms’, to show international leadership on a range of issues. It seems that opportunities that we do have to improve systems such as farming subsidies are quickly squandered, and this is a cause of much frustration.
Exporters in Kent now face lengthy additionally administration to export to the EU, with new processes that have been poorly managed by the Government and badly communicated to businesses. Additional red-tape (which we were told was supposed to be cut as a result of Brexit) is causing critical delays to the transporting of perishable and high value goods. These businesses are often small and family-run, desperately trying to stay afloat in the context of a pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, and the continued uncertainty causes immense pressure and anxiety.
Without Government support, the businesses that make up the fabric of our community and employ local people will soon disappear, leading to a knock-on effect to sectors such as hospitality, which are already struggling.
The now frequent delays at the border as a result of the Brexit deal have led to gridlock across East Kent, and at ports and railway terminals, causing misery for thousands of travellers every day. Nobody voted to turn Kent into Europe’s biggest lorry park, and the Government needs to get a grip so that we can minimise the implementation of Operation Brock.
Turning to the possible approach taken to the UK’s relationship with the EU by a future Labour government, while I understand that many within the party do not wish to “reopen divisions” within our country, I think that it is clear that a Labour government will need to seek closer cooperating with our EU partners, to strengthen our economy and our society. While a reassessment of the potential benefits of rejoining the Single Market or Customs Union, or reopening Freedom of Movement, are unlikely under the current Conservative government, I do not believe that my Labour colleagues should rule these out. If we want our economy to thrive in both the short and long term, then I believe we need to be open to ideas that would boost businesses and strengthen trade partnerships.
I will continue to make the case both within the Labour Party and in our constituency for greater cooperation and closer ties with our European neighbours. Canterbury has long been an international city, and our European ties have brought prosperity for centuries.
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