Angela's speech to the Opposition motion 3rd Dec 2016
Let me be ab solutely clear. We cannot say this often enough: this debate is not about whether we Brexit but how we Brexit. That is of prime importance. Decisions taken during the withdrawal process could have a huge impact on our economy and the prosperity of the people of this country. I do not accept the comments by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). The future of this country and its prosperity is of prime significance to the Members of this Chamber, and we have a right to discuss, debate and take a vote on it.
The people may have voted for Brexit—we cannot say this often enough, either—but they did not vote to be poorer. I echo the comments by my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The time for digs against and negative comments about those of us who want the best possible deal for the UK is over. It is time to move on and to be responsible and mature in terms of what we are looking for.
It is the responsibility of Parliament to explore what Brexit means, both for our constituents and, importantly, for businesses located in our constituencies. I shall take for an example a key sector of our economy—food and farming, the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK economy, with a value of more than £108 billion, providing 3.9 million jobs. Seventy-five per cent of our agricultural exports are to the European Union.
The National Farmers Union has modelled three scenarios for the outcome of the negotiations: a free trade agreement with the European Union; World Trade Organisation rules; and trade liberalisation.
The potential cost to farming of non-tariff barriers to access the EU and worldwide trade range from 5% as a result of regulatory divergence to 8%. If direct farm payments are reduced or taken away completely from farmers in those scenarios there will be a hugely negative impact on farm incomes, ranging from a reduction of £24,000 per annum under the best deal—the free trade deal—to an impact of over £30,000 per annum on individual farm income under the trade liberalisation scenario. The EU spends £3.2 billion a year on support to farmers, which is just under 25% of what we pay the EU to be a member of the Union. A key question for the Commons is whether we continue direct farm payments to farmers at the existing 100% level. Do we reduce it, and do we look at the impact on farm trade and individual farmers? We need answers to those questions before we can sign off any Government position on what we do in Brussels in summer 2017.
The farming industry employs more than 80,000 seasonal workers a year. The NFU has called for a seasonal agricultural workers permit scheme. The Government refuse to commit to such a scheme, but without that input there is little hope for the horticultural sector. Furthermore, the food and drink manufacturing sector has a skills gap. By 2024, it will stand at 130,000. On top of that, one in 12 employers in the sector report an intention on the part of their employees to go back home.
The road haulage industry, which is a critical service for the food and farming sector, has a skills shortage of 45,000. Sixty thousand drivers in the UK are foreign, mostly from the EU. The veterinary sector is another vital service for the food and farming sector, and reports that over 50% of vets registered every year in the UK come from abroad, mostly the EU.
The labour shortages that will or could result from Brexit should be taken seriously by the Government. We need to know what resources and plans are required to take account of immigration policy and restrictions on freedom of movement and on the development of the domestic workforce. It is reasonable that this Chamber has an understanding of where the Government are going on this key issue before it accepts the Government’s negotiating position on Brexit. These concerns should be addressed when the Government publish their plan.
My own position is that we should retain membership of the single market, but I also believe that we need a proper timetable and sufficient time for Parliament to scrutinise the proposals and to amend them if necessary.
I will vote against the amendment, therefore, because there are no guarantees before us today. Nothing that I have heard today gives me confidence that the Government will not try to wriggle out of the commitment to put a plan before this House. The vote today is not against Brexit, but against a motion that will potentially curtail the right of Parliament to act in the national interest, as it should do, and in so doing, act in the interests of our constituents.