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Clock is Ticking to sort out Brexit Shambles

We're entering the last leg of Brexit but Britain can't afford getting a bargain-basement last-minute deal.
A year ago, European Council President Donald Tusk was handed a letter that started the ball rolling on the most significant change to our country in recent history.

This was the day Theresa May's government triggered Article 50, which meant the UK was officially beginning its Brexit journey. According to the European Treaties' Article 50, the government and the EU27 countries then had two years to negotiate a divorce and new living arrangements.

In the last year it has become increasingly apparent that Article 50 was triggered without the most basic of groundwork being done to prepare for tight, time-limited negotiations.

The preparations of this Tory government to secure a good Brexit deal leaves many of us cold, as the primary focus seems to have been on negotiations within the Tory party, between hard Brexiteers and ardent Remainers, rather than the main job at hand of negotiating with the EU27.

Yet, unless the government is forced to call an early election, we're stuck with them for the coming year. A legitimate question to ask is if they are up to the task ahead?

On the citizens' rights front, which should have been the easiest part of the negotiations to sort out, since both sides state that they don't want individuals' lives to be negatively affected by Brexit, there's still plenty left to do, especially regarding the future of Brits who live in other member states.

We now know that EU citizens who live in the UK will be given the opportunity to apply for settled status. This is all fine and dandy if you have papers that prove you have worked full time for the past five years (at least), but it assumes that people have linear lives and fit into neat administrative boxes.

If national insurance contributions are the benchmark, what happens to those who have focused on studying, being a full-time parent or who had to become carers for their loved ones? Are they worthless to a Brexit Britain?

On top of the limbo that millions still find themselves in, there is also the multi-faceted and sensitive issue of the Irish border.

The closer we are to the EU, the more fluid the border will be. The Good Friday Agreement needs a frictionless border, which is why I have consistently argued that we should remain part of the EU single market and customs union.

However, Theresa May has been categorical that continued membership of either is off the table which begs the question: how will the government reconcile its contradictory position against both a hard border on the island of Ireland or a hard border in the Irish Sea?

The TUC has rightly pointed out that ruling out participating in the EU's customs union and single market is effectively choosing to put up barriers to UK trade with Europe after Brexit. This risks the future of our economy and business, cutting us off from the EU social and employment rights on which British workers rely.

For a region like my own, with a large exporting manufacturing and services base, government and independent  research has forecast a drop of 16% of GDP in the case of a hard Brexit and only marginally less if a free trade deal is concluded.

For the Tories – who brand themselves as the party for business - to be so arrogantly opposed to the benefits of being part of the huge trading bloc on our doorstep is an immense oversight at best and self-destruction at worst. But which one is it?

While I am always more inclined to think the worst of the Tories, there has been a staggering level of incompetence that has threaded throughout the negotiating process.

Whether it was the debacle about the Brexit impact assessments, or Boris Johnson's reference to people whistling for money, or Liam Fox's complete delusion when suggesting a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest one in history, our partners have been outraged and amazed at the infantile behaviour of our political class.

Bearing in mind that this Tory government is propped up in Westminster by the likes of the DUP, how could we expect anyone to put their faith in them for securing a good Brexit deal for our country?

All of this, paired with the gaps in guarantees that may not be apparent at first sight, are the main reasons why Labour is forensically scrutinising the negotiations. As a Labour MEP, I have the fascinating but sometimes grim privilege of seeing how the sausage machine of negotiations works in practice and I am used to going through the fine print with a toothcomb.

The Labour Party back home is also playing the long game, trying to strengthen the very parliamentary sovereignty over the process and Brexit deal that the referendum focused on.

Most recently Keir Starmer's amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill is currently making its way through the Lords in order to strengthen the terms of Parliament's 'meaningful vote' on the final deal, while the Exiting the EU Select Committee recently recommended an extension of the Article 50 to ensure a better prepared Britain for outside the EU.

But we are working under a ticking clock, is there enough time to ensure that our efforts to scrutinise deliver a better Brexit?

I ended each of my arguments with a question for a reason: we are halfway through the negotiations, we have two-thirds of the final deal on the table, in yet there are many more questions than answers still on the table.

Brexit is bigger than our internal party politics. It's bigger than 'for' or 'against' the Labour leadership. If left to this Tory government, it will be catastrophic for regions like my own. Policy conferences and this year's Labour Party Conference will be crucial - we can't be silent or hedge our positions.

We must stand united to actively oppose a Tory bargain-basement, last minute deal which sees us worse off, less secure and isolated - if not now, when?

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP represents the North East of England in the European Parliament. She tweets at @Jude_KD