Yvette Cooper: My Article 50 bill doesn’t stop Brexit - it buys time to prevent no-deal disaster

The Prime Minister’s Brexit process is getting messier each day and time is running out. Everyone is shouting at each other. The Government doesn’t seem to have any clear plan on what to do next.

There is a now a real risk we end up drifting into no deal by accident at the end of March – even though that would mean tariffs on food, real damage to Yorkshire manufacturing and small businesses, and would undermine our border security.

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That’s why I’m calling for a bit of calm and common sense and suggesting that if there isn’t a deal in place by the end of February then Parliament and the Government should be able to seek a bit more time to sort things out so families, businesses and public services aren’t hit hard in March by no deal.

Yvette Cooper hopes Parliament can avert a no-deal Brexit.Yvette Cooper hopes Parliament can avert a no-deal Brexit.
Yvette Cooper hopes Parliament can avert a no-deal Brexit.

Ten days ago, the Prime Minister’s deal was rejected by Parliament because MPs on all sides believed that it would weaken us abroad and undermine our ability to negotiate successful future trading partnerships.

Since then, at the Prime Minister’s invitation, I and other cross-party Select Committee chairs have met with Government Ministers to see if there is a way forward and changes that could be made.

But there has been little progress and time is running out.

To be honest, I think Theresa May has wasted a lot of time along the way. The Article 50 process gave us 24 months to agree the Brexit arrangements. But the Prime Minister spent four months on a General Election, another 12 months arguing with the Cabinet over what 
they should be negotiating for, and didn’t put a deal to Parliament until 22 months were gone.

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Most of the new legislation we need still isn’t in place. Businesses and public services still don’t know what to plan for. This is a shocking way to run anything.

That’s why, along with other cross-party MPs, I put forward a new bill which would give the Government until the end of February to sort things out, but if they haven’t by then, Parliament would be able to vote on whether to seek a bit more time and extend Article 50.

The bill doesn’t stop Brexit or dictate what kind of Brexit we should have, nor does it revoke Article 50 or overturn the result of the referendum. It just gives everyone a bit more time.

The Government and Parliament still need to resolve the best way forward, but this bill prevents us ending up with no deal by accident at the end of March.

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I know there are some people who are arguing for no deal. But it won’t be people like Jacob Rees-Mogg who pay the price, it will be working families, manufacturing industry and our public services.

If we have no deal, WTO rules mean tariffs on food. Environment Secretary and leave campaigner Michael Gove has warned there will be 40 per cent tariffs on beef and lamb.

Tereos in Normanton who produce Whitworths sugar told me that a bag of their sugar will double in price.

I don’t think it is fair on families who already have to rely on foodbanks to face food price hikes.

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Nor do I think patients should have to worry about medicine delays. The Government – including the NHS – is now spending billions on preparing for no deal. That money could be better spent on patient care instead.

Yorkshire is proud of our manufacturing industry and it’s why I called from the start for the Government to get the best possible Brexit deal for manufacturing.

Burberry, who have hundreds of manufacturing jobs in Castleford, say No Deal would hit their supplies and exports.

Haribo, based in Pontefract, have warned of customs delays to ingredients.

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One local florist are worried the business could go under if delays mean imported flowers can’t be sold.

Leeds Bradford Airport say if there is no deal they will scale back investment and jobs.

Leaked Border Force documents show that we will lose immediate access to crucial criminal databases we use to stop terror suspects, organised criminals and dangerous weapons, and there’s no time to put a new system in place. Counter-terror police chiefs have warned that our security will be undermined.

I understand some people think no deal is the simplest option. I fear it would be the messiest and would weaken our negotiating hand in any future trade deals.

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It’s alright for Sir James Dyson. He’s taking his business to Singapore. But the rest of us want British industry and business to be a success.

Yorkshire families and businesses shouldn’t be hit in March because the Prime Minister has run down the clock.

It’s time for a common sense way forward and that means being honest and admitting that if there is no agreement soon, everyone may need more time to sort it out.

Yvette Cooper is Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford