Text of letter sent by Labour MPs to Theresa May
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 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 on to the rocks.
Leaving without a deal would immediately impose tariffs on exports from the UK to the EU, as we would move on to World Trade Organisation tariff schedules. These would include 10% on cars, 12% on many items of clothing, and 40% on lamb.
British manufacturers and farmers would face being priced out of their most important market, which buys 44% 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% of our exports, while we buy just 7% 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.
Chuka Umunna, chair of Vote Leave Watch; Heidi Alexander; Rushanara Ali; Adrian Bailey; Luciana Berger; Ben Bradshaw; Neil Coyle; Stella Creasy; Geraint Davies; Julie Elliott; Lilian Greenwood; Harriet Harman; Liz Kendall; Peter Kyle; Chris Leslie; Seema Malhotra; Chris Matheson; Kerry McCarthy; Pat McFadden; Alison McGovern; Jess Phillips; Naz Shah; Gavin Shuker; Daniel Zeichner