Good morning Conference.
This is likely my last report as your Member of the European Parliament and so I wanted to personally thank all members, trade unionists and Labour Party regional staff for the support you have given me.
And especially to thank my own staff Peter, Chris, Joe, Noah, and Dan.
I also wanted to place on record all of our thanks to our previous Labour MEPs for the East of England, David Thomas, Eryl McNally, Clive Needle and of course Richard Howitt.
For me, it is a huge honour to be your MEP for the East of England and I will carry on fighting on your behalf until the end.
Now it may seem hard to believe but just occasionally when I’m in Brussels and Strasbourg, I don’t actually have to think about Brexit – because to be honest many of my colleagues from other European countries don’t. Because we’re busy, debating in the Parliament chamber and working out how to get the votes to defeat the right wingers, so can legislate for the many, not the few.
And in the European Parliament this year, I’m proud that Labour MEPs have voted to end the tampon tax across Europe by amending the VAT directive.
I voted for a new posted workers’ directive – so that the principle of equal work, for equal pay, in the same place applies to employees sent to work in another EU country. New rules that will end the exploitation of migrant workers and (importantly because this was an issue that came up in the referendum) stop local workers’ wages from being undercut.
I voted to close tax loopholes for big multi-nationals, for an agreed blacklist of tax havens and for stronger action on climate change.
But Tory and UKIP regional MEPs, have continued to behave disgracefully.
The Tories voted against an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, despite the suffering in Yemen
They failed to back new EU laws that will protect millions of workers from exposure to dangerous chemicals that cause cause cancer.
And then, while every other centre-right party of government decided enough is enough in Hungary, our Tories voted in support of the Hungarian authoritarian leader Viktor Orban.
Conference it is truly sickening – the far right are on the march across our continent – and Tory MEPs chose to cozy up to Victor Orban. A man shutting down free speech, opposed to LGBT rights and silencing an independent judiciary. And the Tories wonder why they don’t have any friends in Europe to make progress on Brexit?
Now one of the best things about being your MEP is the people I meet, the organisations I visit across our area and the campaigns I join you on.
I’ve campaigned with our councillors including against period poverty in Suffolk, and against the heartless Tory plans to cut 46 out of the 53 children’s centres in Norfolk, and with trade union colleagues on the McStrike picket line in Cambridgeshire.
On a farm in Brandon I met people learning new agricultural skills on an EU funded scheme, including rounding up goslings – was I on a wild goose chase ?
In Cromer I tucked into fish and chips – but the manager told me any Brexit tariffs would batter their business.
And in better news in Chelmsford, I went to a furniture restoration cooperative, and helped Cooperators repairing and reupholstering a chair – well all politicians like a safe seat…
And a memorable moment – when a farmer suggested I drive his combine harvester – straight towards a photographer – who suddenly looked extremely worried. Do Labour politicians dislike the mainstream media that much, he shouted?
I have also worked closely with our trade unions partners. Highlighting USDAW’s campaign with Lidl workers in a speech in the Parliament, campaigning with the FBU against the hostile takeover of fire services by PCCs (well done Hertfordshire), with the GMB to Take Back the Tap, with UNISON for a public sector pay rise, the CWU on the People’s Post campaign, Aslef on the botched timetable changes, Unite on tips, and for union recognition for Ryanair workers.
I have also continued my work on animal welfare and personally delivered an 8 million strong petition to the United Nations in New York calling for a global ban to build on the EU wide ban on cosmetic testing on animals.
By the way thank you to everyone who came along to help promote the petition at Body Shop stores across the region – the campaign was rabbit themed – and I did get a few comments about how many photos I was in with people wearing bunny ears.
You know one of the great strengths of the European wide ban, was that at a stroke of a pen 28 nations simultaneously and collectively took action.
Britain was a trailblazer on the issue but sadly I fear that in the future, as a nation we will have less influence.
We are limiting the ripples of change from the concerns of our citizens, which previously turned into a wave of agreement across Europe, which then could wash onto the shores of the rest of the world.
Which brings me to Brexit.
Now in some ways I could say exactly what I said in my speech to you last year:
The talks they aren’t going well
And they are stuck on some important issues like the Northern Ireland border
And the Tory Party are weak and divided
And the clock is ticking.
The emails and letters I get are mostly about Brexit.
The businesses and organisations I visit across the region are worried about the economic damage to our part of the world. From aerospace, to agriculture, to automobiles… and that’s just the A’s.
But conference I am worried.
The government’s own impact assessments for the East of England show we could expect a drop of 8% in GDP.
To compare that – the 2008 crash was just a 2 per cent drop in GDP.
But they are just figures. What lies behind them?
Brexit risks for the East of England are specific
We are a region with financial centres like here in Norwich: losing the ability to passport insurance and banking services across Europe
We are a manufacturing region: with Vauxhall in Luton, we make satellites in Stevenage. Brexit means facing the risk of barriers to our main export market, and an end to just in time delivery.
We are a farming region: yet who will pick our salad crops? And how do we ensure food standards don’t slip with competition from American chlorinated chicken?
We are a region of world class universities: losing access to research funding and dropping out of collaborative networks
Sizewell could fall out of EURATOM
We are a region of docks in Felixstowe, Harwich and Tilbury, our export highway to the continent employing thousands
We are a region of airports with planes flying out of Stansted, Southend, Norwich and Luton where Easyjet recently took the decision to register all their British pilots in Austria
So, we have a lot to lose.
And Europe’s not just about economics. It’s about peace, culture, security, research, and coordinated overseas development aid.
And it’s about people.
One meeting I went this year, that happened to take place in this city, sticks in my mind. The meeting was about citizens rights, and one EU citizen after another spoke about their worries for the future. You know you can’t undo that feeling of unwelcomeness. If only the Government had done the right thing, what Jeremy Corbyn suggested, and made a generous offer to EU citizens right at the outset. What would have happened? Well I expect the other EU counties would have said thank you and promptly said our 3 million citizens living in other EU countries could stay there too.
In such turbulent times wouldn’t it be good to have a government that was focussed on our vital interests, that has a clear idea of what is possible, and what it wants to secure.
But instead we’ve got the “Dancing Queen” – strutting her stuff to ABBA – as the country faces it’s Waterloo.
And the talk of of hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, or a blindfold Brexit or red, white and blue Brexit
But the truth is there is only one kind of Brexit Theresa May is offering – Tory Brexit.
And she will, in the next month or so, come back from a meeting in Brussels heralding a Tory deal she has struck.
And will is be a deal that protects our hard fought for rights at work? No.
Will it be a deal that ensures high quality food standards and animal welfare ? No.
Will it be a deal that’s good for trading in the world’s largest single market on our doorstep ? No.
Will it be a deal that promotes human rights? No.
Will it be a deal that meets Keir Starmer and Jeremy’s red lines? No.
Of course not.
And will it be a deal that meets the expectations of the people who voted leave?
I think not.
Only Jacob Rees Mogg voted for Brexit “at whatever the cost”. He can. After all the millionaire minister for the 18th century can afford it.
But most Leave voters didn’t vote for Brexit-at-any-cost. They were, after all, told that it wouldn’t cost anything at all.
That there would be a Brexit dividend that would all go to the NHS.
But as it becomes clearer that Brexit is actually very costly, those voters are entitled to say that that is not what they were promised and not what they voted for.
So when Theresa May brings her Tory deal to Parliament.
Our Labour MPs need to stick firm to our policy agreed at Conference. Talking about Keir’s tests, the resolution says, and I quote: Labour MPs must vote against any Tory deal failing to meet these tests in full…
And if we manage to defeat the Tories in the Commons then Labour must influence what happens next.
Our preference is for a general election to sweep away this failed Tory Government.
But if a General Election is not possible then we need a public vote.
Because as every trade unionist in this room knows when you’ve negotiated a deal with an employer, you go back to your members and ask them if they’re happy with it. Whether they want to accept or reject it.
Isn’t it right that May’s deal is put to that test?
May’s deal that would further deregulate the economy, supports neo-liberalism but undermines the rights of working people.
I say we are entitled to say “Not in our name”.
In fact I would argue as socialists and Europeans we must make it crystal clear it is not in our name. Not in Labour’s name. As the Tories seek to plunge our country into an historic catastrophe.
Labour does not vote for our country to become weaker, poorer and more isolated.
So we oppose Tory Brexit just as we oppose Tory austerity, we oppose Tory Universal Credit, and the Tory destruction of our NHS.
And so with a weak and wobbly government, maybe an opportunity will come soon, and I say bring it on.
Because we know we are fighting fit.
Ready for the 2019 council elections, ready for any public vote on the Brexit deal, ready for a general election whenever it comes.
We have a formidable team of parliamentary candidates in place in our early selecting seats and together with our Labour MPs and huge membership I know our party is raring to go.
So secure in our socialist and internationalist values.
Let us go out and fight.
See you on the doorstep.