Statment on the European Parliament's approval of CETA free trade deal with Canada

February 15, 2017

I believe in the value of trade as a good. Done properly, it can lift people in developing countries out of poverty, it can enhance quality of life through increased spending and investment, create jobs, improve cultural understanding, reduce animosity and cut costs for consumers. The benefits range from the noble to the ordinary.

Done badly trade can manipulate the weaker side, exploit producers, reduce employment through unbalanced preferences, increase damage to the environment, remove the rights of indigenous communities and lower trust in governments.

I believe that CETA falls into the first category. As the Labour Party's European spokesperson on the environment I looked extensively at the provisions of CETA, whether the precautionary principle would be under threat, whether governments would be restricted in their ability to introduce legislation on the environment and I came to the conclusion that the provisions of CETA - in particular the Joint Interpretive Instrument - were a safeguard against these concerns.

Nevertheless I have received thousands of emails and requests - including from the leadership of many key trade unions whose members stand to be affected by the terms of CETA - imploring me to vote against. Whereas I disagree with many of the analyses that run contrary to the conclusions I reached above, I cannot ignore the collective voices of those who work in the industries that stand to gain or lose from CETA. In addition, although advice on the impact on jobs has been directly contradictory, I must treat the objections with the utmost seriousness.

On balance I still believe CETA to be a positive deal. When I entered the chamber to vote it was clear that the extreme wings - on the left and on the right - were against the deal. UKIP's group sat with #stopCETA signs. As a general rule if Farage is against something it is, more often than not, worth approving. I don't believe the answers to the problems we face belong on the extreme wings of our politics. But I do respect the fiercely held opinions of so many of my constituents and representatives who say their members will be affected. Although I very strongly support the provisions of CETA, I felt the only principled stance I could take (to vote against would have betrayed my conscience) was to abstain.

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