Tony Lloyd: If PM can't reach a workable Brexit deal we must have a general election
The New Year has seen many in Northern Ireland concerned by news that the PSNI is contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit scenario.
The PSNI is doing this because the Government has recklessly continued to refuse to rule out a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
Labour does not want to see the UK leave the EU with no deal in place and neither do most people I speak to in Northern Ireland, in my own constituency of Rochdale and across the UK.
The PSNI is looking to other police forces for assistance as part of its planning. This highlights twin catastrophic failures from this Tory government: their failure to maintain essential public services and their failure to negotiate Brexit. Police numbers have been cut across the board with twenty thousand fewer police officers since this government came to power.
As a Police and Crime Commissioner and as Mayor of Greater Manchester I've seen firsthand how our police are stretched to the bone and unable to deliver the service we expect and deserve.
The same is true here in Northern Ireland; the PSNI has had officer numbers consistently below the Patten Commission's recommendations (last summer they hit an all-time low), and with post-Brexit border arrangements on the horizon it may need even greater numbers than expected. It was encouraging to see the very long awaited announcement that funding for an additional 300 officers had been made available due to concerns surrounding policing the border. Labour have pressed for additional funding for some time.
However our departure from the EU is scheduled for March 29 this year, while the recruitment drive will not be complete until April 2020. As ever with the Tories, it is too little and too late.
Our government has failed in Brussels as much as it has in Belfast. We would not need to be talking about contingency policing arrangements if the Prime Minister and Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had negotiated a deal that met Labour's six tests and maintained the current border status quo.
Yet internal Conservative Party politics is being allowed to dictate the country's future.
While Theresa May battles to appease her party's hardline right-wing, she insists on keeping the dangerous threat of no deal on the table to help force through her deal, which cannot command a majority in Parliament.
The EU has repeatedly said that the current deal is the best one on offer. This is only true if a deal is struck within the Conservative Party's red lines, which are again set in the party's interests rather than the country's. If the red lines can change so too can negotiations and the current stalemate.
Labour is calling for a permanent UK-wide customs union and a new comprehensive single market relationship that protects jobs, the economy and our security. I firmly believe that this could command a majority in Parliament, and respect the referendum result while ensuring no new borders on the island of Ireland or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
If the Prime Minister cannot or will not reach out beyond her party to strike a workable deal that can command majority support, then she should step aside, call a general election and give the public a chance to take control of what happens next.
Should that happen, Labour stands ready to govern for the many, not the few.
- Tony Lloyd MP is Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary