47 Labour MPs write to May opposing plans for a hard Brexit

46 Labour MPs have written to Theresa May condemning her intention to potentially pull Britain out of the European Union without any trade agreement having been reached, and to change Britain’s economic model in order to become more competitive should this come about.

They condemn the idea that “a bad deal for Britain is better than no deal for Britain”, saying that leaving the EU without any trade arrangements in place “could sail the UK economy onto the rocks”, with high tariffs being levied on British goods exported to the EU. They criticise the Prime Minister for putting “Britain’s prosperity below matters of internal Tory party management,” and say that she and her cabinet ministers will be responsible if they fail to get a good deal with the EU.

And they attack her threat to change Britain’s economic model, saying to do so would make the UK “the sweatshop of Europe”, as public services, workers’ rights and environmental protections would inevitably come under threat.

The signatories include former deputy leader Harriet Harman, two members of the current Labour front bench, ten former members of the shadow cabinet, and 15 MPs whose constituencies voted to leave the European Union in the referendum.

Commenting, Chuka Umunna MP, Chair of Vote Leave Watch, said:

"Personally, as a democrat and having agreed to the rules under which the referendum was fought, I would find it hard to vote against triggering Article 50. But the content of the Brexit deal is a different matter – I am not prepared to give the Tories a blank cheque to make life harder for middle and lower income households in my constituency, a sentiment which is shared across the House of Commons.

"The Tories think they can avoid responsibility if they fail to get a good deal in these Brexit negotiations, and have given notice they will use it as an excuse to turn Britain into the sweatshop of Europe and a giant tax haven for the multinationals and the super-rich. If they do so, Labour MPs will fight them tooth and nail to protect the interests of working people, which is what our party was set up to do."



Notes to editors:

Vote Leave Watch is the campaign founded after the EU referendum to hold Leave campaigners to account for their promises. See our website here: http://www.voteleavewatch.org.uk/.

The 44 signatories include a former deputy leader of the Labour Party, two members of the Brexit Select Committee, and two members of the current Labour front bench. Of the signatories, 15 – or 35 per cent – represent constituencies that voted to leave the European Union. This is similar to the percentage of Labour voters who voted to leave the EU in the referendum on June 23rd.


The full letter and list of signatories are below:

Dear Prime Minister,

On Tuesday, you announced your intention to pull Britain out of the Single Market and to seek a free trade agreement with the European Union instead.  Other nations like Norway and Iceland are not in the EU yet opted to be part of the Single Market because of the huge benefits it brings.  But before negotiations have even begun, you have discarded our membership of the largest and most sophisticated trading zone in the world. You start a negotiation by aiming for the best deal you can possibly get; not by throwing in the towel and waving the white flag as you have done.

Even more worrying, you said that Britain could leave the EU without any form of future trading arrangement being agreed. This is a threat that places Britain’s prosperity below matters of internal Tory party management. Managing expectations ahead of the start of talks may be smart internal party politics, but it could sail the UK economy onto the rocks.

Leaving without a deal would immediately impose tariffs on exports from the UK to the EU, as we would move onto World Trade Organisation tariff schedules. These would include ten per cent on cars, 12 per cent on many items of clothing, and 40 per cent on lamb. British manufacturers and farmers would face being priced out of their most important market, which buys 44 per cent of all our exports.  Businesses large and small in our constituencies would suffer, jobs would be lost and prices in the shops would rise.

You say that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain" as if you will bear no responsibility for such an outcome.  You may try to scapegoat the EU or the civil service, but you are the Prime Minister. Those of your ministers who campaigned to Leave promised that Britain would achieve a free trade agreement post-Brexit, and you have signed up to their agenda. If the negotiation goes wrong and all we can get is a "bad deal" with the European Union, you and your cabinet will be responsible.

Your threat to our European partners – to leave “the mainstream of European economic and social thinking” in order to “regain competitiveness” – is both diplomatic nonsense and a real danger to the living standards of working people.  It is a nonsense because the United Kingdom would have much more to lose from a trade war than the European Union. They buy 44 per cent of our exports, while we buy just seven per cent of theirs. In a negotiation, the smaller partner gets what it wants through subtlety and goodwill – not bluster and hollow threats.

It is a danger to working people because we all know what Tory politicians mean by “regaining competitiveness”: tax cuts for the rich paid for by slashing public services, and a bonfire of employment rights and environmental protections. Your words about a Britain that “protects and enhances” workers’ rights are just that – words. You have yet to guarantee all the employment rights delivered by our EU membership will be maintained.  Members of your cabinet have already made clear your party's desired direction of travel: Liam Fox has called the laws that protect our rights at work “intellectually unsustainable” and Priti Patel said employment regulations should be halved.

So the approach to Brexit outlined in your speech is clear: it is one of self-harm, not statesmanship. Devastating our trade by leaving without a deal, and then making Britain the sweatshop of Europe, would be a disaster for our country. Working people, including millions who voted to Leave the EU, would pay the price.  Your government has a mandate to take us out of the EU but you have no mandate to do this.

Yours sincerely,

Chuka Umunna, Chair of Vote Leave Watch

Heidi Alexander

Rushanara Ali

Adrian Bailey

Luciana Berger

Ben Bradshaw

Karen Buck

Ann Coffey

Neil Coyle

Mary Creagh

Stella Creasy

Geraint Davies

Thangam Debbonaire

Stephen Doughty

Maria Eagle

Julie Elliot

Mike Gapes

Lilian Greenwood

Harriet Harman

Helen Hayes

Margaret Hodge

Liz Kendall

Peter Kyle

David Lammy

Chris Leslie

Holly Lynch

Seema Malhotra

Chris Matheson

Kerry McCarthy

Pat McFadden

Ian Murray

Alison McGovern

Toby Perkins

Jess Phillips

Steve Reed

Joan Ryan

Tulip Siddiq

Naz Shah

Gavin Shuker

Andrew Smith

Angela Smith

Owen Smith

Wes Streeting

Gareth Thomas

Phil Wilson

John Woodcock

Daniel Zeichner



Vote Leave, and Leave campaigners now in the cabinet, promised that Britain would get a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU:

  • David Davis, 4th February 2016: “We are too valuable a market for Europe to shut off.  Within minutes of a vote for Brexit the CEO’s of Mercedes, BMW, VW and Audi will be knocking down Chancellor Merkel’s door demanding that there be no barriers to German access to the British market. And while they are at it they will be demanding that those British companies that they own will have uninterrupted access to Europe.  We are talking Mini and Rolls Royce, owned by BMW, and Bentley, owned by Volkswagen.  Premium brands with healthy demand across Europe. And this is not just German cars. The same will happen with Shell and Unilever in the Netherlands, EDF, EADS and the viticultural trade associations in France, Seat in Spain, and Fiat and the fashion designers in Italy. The pressure from European companies for a free trade deal between the UK and the remaining member of the European Union would be huge…Essentially we would be looking for a full scale free trade agreement.” http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/02/david-davis-britain-would-be-better-off-out-of-the-eu-and-heres-why.html
  • Liam Fox, 4th March 2016: “We will still be a market that the remaining EU countries need to export to – we import far more from them than they do from us -so getting a free trade agreement is more urgent for them.” https://www.liamfox.co.uk/news/embracing-future
  • Chris Grayling, 15th June 2016: “It will be possible to negotiate a new settlement with the EU, including a UK-EU free trade deal, by the next general election in May 2020. This is mainly because 1) there is already tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU and 2) there is already regulatory equivalence, so the main stumbling blocks to negotiating a trade agreement are absent. It is also in all countries’ economic and political interests for there to be a friendly deal that will increase and improve international cooperation…The UK is a much more important export market than Canada, so will easily be able to achieve the maintenance of the status quo, namely tariff-free trade in goods…The UK will quickly be able to strike a satisfactory deal on mutual recognition.”https://voteleavearchive.com/a_framework_for_taking_back_control_and_establishing_a_new_uk_eu_deal_after_23_june
  • Boris Johnson, 11th March 2016: “What I think we should do is strike a new free trade deal along the lines of what Canada has just achieved. They’ve taken out the vast majority of the tariffs, they have virtually unencumbered trade now. We want a relationship based on trade and co-operation.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35786882
  • Andrea Leadsom, 24th May 2016: “The facts are certainly on our side; as the world's fifth biggest economy, and without the shackles of the EU, we will have the opportunity to set up free trade, not just with our European neighbours, but also with the 2.2bn consumers of the Commonwealth, as well as the fast growing emerging economies of the Far East and the Americas.” http://www.cityam.com/241739/why-brexit-wont-be-a-disaster-and-as-former-city-minister-i-should-know
  • Priti Patel, 21st February 2016: “Following a vote to leave, Britain will be able to untangle the labyrinth of EU laws and regulations that have held our country back. We will be free to make our own laws and to negotiate a fair and new trade deal with Europe that defends our interests.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3456595/LET-S-Employment-Minister-Priti-Patel-says-quitting-Europe-make-Britain-stronger.html
  • Vote Leave: “There is a free trade zone stretching all the way from Iceland to the Russian border. We will still be part of it after we Vote Leave.” https://voteleavearchive.com/why_vote_leave
  • Vote Leave: “Fact: After we Vote Leave, British businesses will trade freely with the EU.” https://voteleavearchive.com/briefing_trade
  • Vote Leave: “We will negotiate a new UK-EU deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation.” https://voteleavearchive.com/briefing_trade
  • Vote Leave: “Some claim we will not get a trade deal but there is a European free trade zone from Iceland to the Russian border and we will be part of it.” https://voteleavearchive.com/briefing_trade