Today at Scottish Labour conference, Kezia Dugdale was among the speakers at a fringe organised by Scottish Labour for the Single Market. Here is her speech.
Thank you for coming to discuss what is likely the single biggest political and economic crisis we’ll face in our lifetimes – Brexit.
Let me start by being 100 per cent brutally honest: I’m a proud European. I campaigned and voted passionately to remain in the EU.
Of course, the outcome of referenda should be respected. But not at the expense of the needs of working people in this country.
Nobody voted to be poorer.
Our party was founded for this purpose and I believe it has a responsibility, above all others, to fight for the jobs and protections that the EU provides.
That’s why I’m still fighting to stop Brexit. As I’ve said before, my ideal situation is that the UK Government holds a second referendum to either ratify or reject the deal that is struck with the EU.
But today’s fringe accepts that, in all probability, the UK is leaving the EU and it demands that Labour takes up its rightful role and duty in opposing a hard Brexit at every turn.
I’ve read the government’s secret Brexit modelling, and whilst I can’t share its contents, I can tell you it’s harrowing. It’s devastating news for the UK economy and specifically for sectors and industries in which Scotland excels.
I’ve listened hard to economic experts, union leaders and crucially my constituents across the Lothians and I’m utterly convinced that we must fight to stay in the Single Market, and in so doing, limit the damage that Brexit will cause.
And before I tell you why, I want to take a moment to thank Richard Leonard for welcoming this debate and confirming that his mind is still open to solutions on the BBC yesterday morning.
I’m grateful to the SEC for putting its own position – if I had a vote here at conference, personally I’d vote for it, as it contains nothing I fundamentally disagree with despite believing that it doesn’t go far enough.
Richard knows, and I know, that this isn’t about personalities, egos or factions. It’s a healthy democratic discussion – one I hope we can debate in the finest traditions of our movement, fuelled by passion, conviction and hard truths.
A debate that will continue long after tomorrows session on conference floor.
So here’s some hard truths:
The Tories want out of the Single Market so that they can diminish employment rights and protections. How do we know that? Because they’ve told us so.
When Priti Patel was Employment Minister she said she wants to see employment rights cut in half.
Other Tory ministers are on record saying they want to scrap the Working Time Directive, the agency worker directive, and the pregnant workers’ directive.
It’s simply a fact that the Tories want out of the Single Market to get out of these obligations.
So what’s Labour’s excuse?
Yesterday we heard from Jeremy Corbyn that we shouldn’t sign up to remaining in the Single Market without knowing for sure that we can deliver everything in Labour’s manifesto that both he and I were proud to stand behind.
So where’s the evidence that the EU would stop us? I can’t see it.
In fact, the opposite is true in my mind. If we want to be in position to deliver on our radical anti-austerity manifesto – we simply can’t afford a multi-billion hit to our economy and therefore our public finances.
We’re told that being in the Single Market would inhibit our plans for a proper industrial strategy by using state aid to support key industries.
Tell that to the French who spend double what the UK does in percentage terms on state aid, or the Germans who spend four times as much.
Please also remember that amongst the industries likely to suffer the most from Brexit are the very ones we want state aid for. There’s a desperate irony here – every new penny of state aid would be needed to undo the damage of leaving the EU. At best they could hope to stand still – a far cry from forging forth.
We’re told that we need to leave the Single Market to curb immigration and stem the tide of wages being undercut by foreign workers, as if somehow, that’s what the EU promotes.
Yet just as Theresa May strains every sinew orchestrating our exit from Europe, the other 27 leaders of Europe are meeting to drive forward a new pillar of social rights. One designed to provide new, enhanced protections in light of the evolving gig economy, and all the challenges that brings.
Fresh employment rights for Uber and Deliveroo workers including access to insurance and unemployment benefits, companies that know no borders or shop floors.
We watch on as President Macron leads the charge against ‘posted workers’ – the one example where wages can be undercut – when we should be leading the charge at the heart of Europe.
Work done in the same spirit that saw the EU take on the tax avoidance of Apple in Ireland as it did with Starbucks in the Netherlands or Amazon in Luxembourg.
And we’ve allowed the myths of EU immigration rules to be perpetuated by our failures to take on these difficult arguments for decades.
We should have fought harder for the rights of EU migrants to vote in the very referendum that now determines their fate.
Instead we allowed mistruths about EU migrants’ rights to housing, or instant entitlement to benefits, grow and fester.
Our party, a party of internationalism and equality, one that believes in freedom, hope and opportunity should be one that’s at peace with making the positive case for immigration.
A party that doesn’t just accept – but proactively argues – that our country is culturally deeper and economically richer because of immigration, not despite it.
That is thanks to the EU workers who plough our fields, pick our fruit and serve our drinks. The surgeons and carers who have come to my family and friends’ rescue, time and time again.
A party fearful of what their exit might do to our NHS.
That states clearly and unequivocally that your troubles finding a job, getting a house, or seeing your doctor are caused by the Tories austerity ideology, not your Polish next-door neighbours.
Every day we fail to do that, is a day in which Nigel Farage and his kin get up smiling.
I’m not just comfortable with the free movement of workers, I’m a passionate believer in it.
How can it be, that our party, by supporting a customs union, but not the Single Market can be at peace with the free movement of tractors, grain and widgets, but not people?
The evidence is stark: those with the least have the most to lose from Brexit. When our economy crunches, it will be the poorest who suffer the most. The more insecure your job and unscrupulous your employer, the more likely Brexit will hurt you.
The answers to global problems have always been EU solutions. Unions of people and nations, using their collective power for the common good. That’s at the very heart of what it means to be Labour, and it’s why if we must leave Europe, we must remain in the Single Market.