Draft withdrawal agreement shows the government is gambling with Britain’s future

Labour Party

Today’s publication of the legal agreement that could underpin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU confirms that the government’s cake-and-eat-it strategy is as alive and well as ever.

Despite the last-minute fudge agreed by the UK and the EU in December, today’s document makes clear that the government’s preferred strategy for the border in Northern Ireland is pie in the sky. Indeed, the only workable solution appears to involve keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union; something which Theresa May has consistently ruled out.

With only six months until the deal needs to be ratified, we’re yet to see any evidence that the government’s proposed plan to withdraw from the single market whilst simultaneously avoiding a hard border is a workable solution. Though the EU is open to this in principle, the UK has so far failed to produce any proposals that would solve the problem.

Instead, today’s document seeks to establish a “common regulatory area” in Ireland that covers a range of areas such as agriculture, energy and VAT rules, amongst others. It also grants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and proposes customs arrangements that are strikingly similar to the existing customs union, thereby breaking Theresa May’s red lines on Brexit.

The prime minister has defiantly rejected the EU’s proposal but is yet to offer an alternative vision for how the border could work in practice post-Brexit.

So what now? Leaked correspondence from Boris Johnson to Theresa May shows the Tories are still prepared to gamble with Britain’s peace and prosperity by even contemplating a hard Brexit. This would be catastrophic for the future of the country and put jobs, standards and stability at risk.

Peace is Northern Ireland should not be taken for granted and being part of the customs union is the only realistic way to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to 30 horrible years of bloodshed and sectarian conflict. That’s why Labour’s commitment to keeping the UK in the customs union, as Jeremy Corbyn outlined on Monday, is the only sensible basis on which to discuss Britain’s future with the EU.

But we shouldn’t stop there. The draft withdrawal agreement published today also outlines the terms of the so-called transition period. This would see Britain subject to all EU legislation without any decision-making powers, with no clear trajectory for what would happen next.

It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process. Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one. Unless or until the government can guarantee that Britain will get a better deal than our existing relationship with the EU by leaving, it would be an unquantifiable act of self-harm to do so.

Iran Must Respect Human Rights and Release Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali

Labour Party

Today I am writing to the Iranian Ambassadors in the UK and the EU to call for the immediate release of Dr Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian academic who faces the death penalty for politically motivated charges. MEPs have a responsibility to uphold the EU’s high standards of human rights and demand the same from governments worldwide.

Dr Djalali is a well-established and respected academic in Europe, having worked in Italy, Belgium and latterly Sweden. On the 25th April 2016, he was arrested during a business-trip to Iran and denied access to lawyers. In a grossly unfair trial in October 2017, he was convicted for “spreading corruption on earth” and spying on Iran. According to Djalali, these jumped-up charges were in retaliation for his refusal to act as an Iranian spy whilst working as an academic in Europe. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest he engaged in any activity against Iran or its government.

My opposition to the death penalty is resolute, and especially in cases where the accused is innocent and it is so blatantly politically motivated. I am therefore calling on the authorities to annul Dr Djalali’s death sentence immediately, as well as allowing him access to medical professionals and the chance to appeal against his conviction at the highest court.

The EU and the Council of Europe have been instrumental in ending the death penalty worldwide, with opposition to capital punishment forming an integral part of the EU’s policies on human rights and foreign affairs. Most recently, the EU has put in place rules to stop the export of European drugs used for executions in the US. For decades, the EU has been a beacon of democracy and force for good on the world stage, which is one of the reasons I believe passionately in stopping Brexit.

Human rights under fire warns Amnesty International chief

Labour Party

The UK director of Amnesty International, this week warned that the Brexit Bill will substantially reduce human rights in the UK.


Amnesty Internationals extensive report also says that the UK’s decision not to convert the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into domestic law through the Withdrawal Bill will further harm UK citizens and strip them of protections they may not even know they currently have.


The Government claims that it doesn’t need to convert the Charter into domestic law because the fundamental principles which underpin it will continue post Brexit regardless of whether it signs the Charter.


These claims from Amnesty aren’t about the so called ‘project fear’, indeed its UK director, Kate Allen, said: “You don’t have to be pro or anti Brexit to see that without reform the Bill will substantially reduce rights in the UK.”


In its extensive report the charity also warned that Britain will be in a race to be a global leader and its race to the top – something David Davis also promised in his Vienna Speech this week when he said the UK would be in the race to the top- human rights wills suffer. The report says that in a rush to sign new trade deals “there is a growing risk the UK will soft pedal on human rights around the world.”


Theresa May has convened her cabinet this week to discuss the next steps for Brexit, and she hinted the Cabinet will stay up all night if necessary, in order presumably to get some clarity on what it plans to do. The Government’s immediate direction is muddy and its strategic planning is no better. This is not what people voted for. There is no clarity and no certainty, while in contrast we are entering a period of risk – as the Amnesty report illustrates very well.


Is It Worth It? – The Battle Bus

Labour Party

Today I joined “Is it Worth it?” battle bus for its launch in London. Emblazoned with the slogan ‘“Brexit to cost £2000 million a week” says Government’s own report – is it worth it?’, its message is clear: the cost of Brexit is mounting.

Its giant slogan painted across a big red bus parodies the concept used by Vote Leave during the referendum campaign which used a now discredited slogan across its battle bus which claimed we were spending over £350m a week on the EU.batlte bus

The group “Is it worth it” is a grass roots campaign, not affiliated to any political party but funded through donations of 600 ordinary people. And, says its website, it aims to deliver people the truth about Brexit.

Starting today it tours the UK until 28 February. A full list of the bus’s planned route over the next week is available here.

The level of interest in the campaign is evidence alone of just how important the issue is to the public; people are increasingly raising concerns with me about the direction of Brexit and are very uncertain that we are doing the right thing. We know the idea of a second referendum is favourable with the public-last month’s ICM survey showed a 16-point margin in favour of having a final say (47% of people would favour having a final say on Brexit while 34% oppose re opening the question.)

If you are in the area where the bus is heading do visit it. And if you are not able to join the bus on its tour then the website has some very compelling arguments about Brexit and what it would mean if the UK was to stay a member of the EU and its argument is based on facts all of which are on the website.

David Davis’ Vienna Speech was bland and lacking in detail

Labour Party

Brexit Secretary, David Davis, today delivered his Vienna speech outlining that the UK is in the best possible shape to make Brexit work. So confident was he that he promised that the UK won’t plunge into a dystopian Mad Max style world. Any such claims are unfounded, he said.

He went on to dismiss such suggestions stating it was based on nothing: “not our history or our shared interest.” But overall his message appeared to be the UK Government wants (and expects to get) its cake and eat it. Davis also asked for the UK to be trusted, but that trust is not in great supply at the moment – and as we all know trust is an important currency.

Davis’ speech continued by rejecting the idea that leaving the EU will mean a race to the bottom, in terms of workers’ rights and environmental protections.

However, while Davis delivered his speech, the Dutch Government announced it was activating plans for a ‘hard Brexit’ due to the lack of clarity from the UK which, it said, is “impeding negotiations”.

The Dutch Government is right, there is both a lack of vision and planning for the task ahead. This is an accusation the UK is unable to deny, and is the reason Theresa May is convening her Cabinet to discuss the future direction.

The Dutch Government is, unlike the UK, prepared. It understands what is required to ensure the impact of Brexit is kept to a minimum. For example, in readiness for the new rules on trade the Dutch Government is preparing its infrastructure by employing 1000 extra customs officers, so it can cope with the additional burden that will result from the border checks. In other words, they have a clear understanding and recognise precisely what it means to leave the European Union.

In contrast the Home Office has been very clear that it’s not anywhere near ready to put in the border checks or the additional immigration checks which are going to be required. In a word, it’s just chaotic.

Davis says we will work with other EU countries to drive standards, but this is muddy at best. The UK is not only unclear about what it wants, but much of what it wants is impossible to achieve.

Let’s not forget the words of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier who said last year: “The UK wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations. But it also wants to have these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible. You cannot be outside the single market and shape its legal order.”

Gerard Batten is a thoroughly nasty man

Gerard Batten, Labour Party, UKIP

As UKIP selects its new interim leader, I have issued the following statement.

“Gerard Batten purports to be a London representative yet his views couldn’t conflict more with the majority of people in multi-cultural, diverse London.

“I don’t like Batten and I don’t share his views which I believe to be inflammatory, divisive and morally reprehensible.

“He has been known to wear a Union Jack style jacket in the European Parliament and into the chamber, UKIP is only group to behave like this and its only purpose is to goad other MEPs.

“I have endless examples of some of his more extreme views. Within the last 24 hours alone he has been forced to explain previous claims, which include him suggesting Islam is a “death cult”, saying the comments were “factually and historically true” (reported in The Sun).

“He also stated, in yesterday’s interview with Sky News, that: “No foreign money should be allowed to fund extremist mosques and imams.”

“I have a further list of some of his outrageous opinions which include: suggesting that killing prisoners will save money, voted against supporting EU wide domestic violence programmes.*

“Unfortunately, he is now in a position where his voice will undoubtedly be heard with increasing regularity, whilst his views remain completely at odds with so many of those who I (and apparently he) represent.”

* Links to Gerard Batten’s views:


How killing Prisoners will save money:


Voted against combatting domestic violence using EU initiatives:


Boris’ speech will not win hearts or minds

Labour Party

They say you should kill them with kindness – and its precisely what Boris Johnson will try to do in his speech today on, ironically, Valentine’s Day when he attempts to win the hearts of pro EU campaigners.

But it will likely fall flat if he insists, as the leaked transcripts suggest, that he “cannot and will not allow Brexit to be reversed.” Just a minor detail but clearly, he didn’t get the memo- it’s not completely within your power to decide this Boris!

Attempting to thwart any mobilisation of opposition Boris will, as Paul Waugh writes, attempt to “love bomb” his critics. But even before his speech, has been made critics have accused him of hypocrisy. He was, after all, central to the Vote Leave campaign which as we all know exploited fears on immigration and on government spending on the EU.

In his attempts to supposedly win over pro EU supporters he will warn that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope. He can’t possibly be taken seriously- his leading campaign slogan was to promise voters vast sums of money for the NHS post Brexit, and we all know how that turned out.

Not only that but by preaching that he is right and dismissing the prop European campaign he is doing the very thing he claims he isn’t. Typically muddled.

As Chukka Umunna said in an interview with Huff Post: “Boris Johnson is totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal when he engaged in disgraceful scaremongering with his ridiculous assertion that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU and he has already betrayed millions of people by going back on his pledge to secure £350 million extra per week for the NHS. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

“He has so far failed to explain why he is campaigning in Cabinet to take the UK out of the Customs Union when there is no other solution to the Irish border issue and it will jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement settlement.

“Boris Johnson needs to come clean and concede that we cannot have our cake and eat it when leaving the EU. His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day.”

The Government is deluded if it thinks that, Boris, of all people will be the one to win over the hearts and minds of pro Europeans. He doesn’t know how to reach out to anyone who doesn’t believe in ‘Boris-ology’ or who refuses to be part of the campaign to further his own political career.

The only sensible option is to go back to the electorate and ask them if it is satisfied with the deal the Government negotiates- if it ever manages it.

The Economic Reality of Brexit

Brexit, economy, Labour Party

The Independent reports today that a majority of voters believe the economy will be negatively affected by Brexit.

The last few months have proven difficult for the Government’s economic policy, with Philip Hammond engaging in what appears to be damage limitation, rather than enthusiastically embracing the so-called “opportunities” which Brexit promised. However, last week was when the economic impact really began to hit home.

Firstly, it emerged that there was no guarantee that Britain’s membership of some 65 EU trade deals would roll-over during the transition phase, potentially leaving the UK subject to EU trade rules without any of the benefits. Indeed, some non-EU member states such as Chile, who would have to agree to the UK remaining in trade deals, are already demanding concessions from the Government on issues such as agriculture.

On Monday, stock markets tumbled with the FTSE 100 falling 1.9%. Most economists indicated that this was a correction and not a cause for concern in itself, given recent market stability. However, it could indicate a more volatile global economy in the future with some alarm bells already sounding.

On Wednesday the Government’s regional impact assessments of Brexit were leaked, revealing an 8% drop in GDP if we crash out of the EU with no deal, and a 5% drop under the Government’s preferred option of a bespoke trade deal. Even leaving the EU and remaining in the Single Market will cost us 1.5% of GDP. To give you an idea of what this means in reality, UK GDP growth hit -2.5% at its peak during the 2008/9 recession.

Of course, these impact assessments are based on models, predictions and assumptions. However, most Government policy, especially economic policy, takes into account an impact assessment so that ministers can make an informed decision about what is likely to happen as a result of said policy.

A responsible Government would not push ahead with any economic policy when faced with such dire numbers, especially when the global economic outlook is somewhat less certain than it was in 2016.

It’s time for the Government to come clean about the true cost of Brexit, and let voters decide for themselves whether it is really worth it.

The Holbeck experiment was ill fated

Labour Party

I was interviewed once again over the weekend about my views on the the ill fated Holbeck experiment which took place in Leeds, it was I said doomed from the start.

We know that shortly after the trial began a young lady, 21-year-old Daria Pionko, was viciously beaten to death. Yet the local authorities, the police and other agencies hailed the trial period a success.

Councillor Mark Dobson, who at the time was Leeds City Council’s executive member for Safer Leeds, was quoted as saying: “The evidence is clearly suggesting the pilot is worthy of continuation.” How?

It’s does these women a huge disservice to think that by sending them into so called “managed zone” they are safe. If anything, they are even more vulnerable because by giving them a designated area it risks normalising prostitution- and everything that comes with it. Making them so vulnerable is in no way helping them. It’s criminal that they are offered no real protection or help to move out of their predicament, instead are sent off to an area where they seemingly don’t disrupt the rest of the community.

The truth is these women have not been given extra support or protection. I have heard, anecdotally, how the area is completely void of police presence. Residents are both nervous and angry at their roads have been ghettoised in such a way.

What is even more appalling is that other local authorities across the country are looking to adopt a similar pilot because they have been told the Holbeck experiment was a success, yet they need only to carry out a simple google search to see there is a darker more sinister side to the designated safe zone.

Prostituted women can never be safe, the very nature of what they do carries great risk and to truly protect and support them to move away from prostitution then the local authority must invest in sensible programmes. The overall aim should be to reduce prostitution.

Many of those who fall into prostitution are dependent on drugs, have precarious housing, emotional and physical illness’ and need help to find employment. But with the right kind of investment they could be truly helped and given real opportunity not sent off to a ghettoised area masquerading as “safe zones” where they are vulnerable have no protection or hope to move on from their lives.

Equality between men and women means supporting the EU

Labour Party

Having a statue of the formidable campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft in London is long overdue and I fully support the campaign to commemorate the first public feminist in this way. It is, of course, true that Mary Wollstonecraft had been ignored by history. Her ground breaking book Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792 is nothing like as well- known as it should be. Mary deserves much more recognition than she gets.

I was, therefore, pleased to see Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsing the campaign for her to have a statue, citing the statistic that 90 per cent of statues in London were men. I even thought Jeremy may have been converted to the cause of women’s rights.

Then I stopped to think. Jeremy is, to say the least, lukewarm about Britain’s membership of the EU. This matters as for the past seven years most of the official work relevant to the UK on women’s rights has been done by the European Parliament Women’s Rights Committee of which I am Vice-Chair. (I do not mean to take away from the excellent work done by sisters such as Harriet Harman, Stella Creasy and Jess Philips, but most of their contributions have been their own work not that done by the Government or even the Opposition).

The European Parliament Women’s Committee has worked on the gender pay gap, violence against women and sexual harassment, stereotypes of women in advertising and the media, as well as sexual health and reproductive rights and work-life balance.

Since its founding treaty in 1957, the EU has maintained a commitment to gender equality. As we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote in Britain, we would do well to take stock of where we are now. The UK is not in the forefront for gender equality across the EU and were we to cease to be in the European Union British women would be worse off, possibly even losing maternity pay and leave, the right to equal treatment between women and men at work and the EU legislation that means the burden of proof for cases of sex discrimination lies with the employer not the female victim.

Jeremy Corbyn, if you really believe in equality between women and men you need to come out strongly in favour of Britain staying in the EU. If you fail to do so, millions of women in Britain will suffer.