EIGHTY-SEVEN weeks have passed since the referendum to leave the European Union was won on a tight margin, and it is almost a year since our exit started with the triggering of Article 50. Yet here we are in February 2018, no closer to knowing what Brexit will look like and what it will mean for jobs and livelihoods in the North-East.

What we do know, from the leaked government impact assessment, is that the hard Brexit being pushed by the right wing of the Conservative Party, would be devastating for jobs and wages in our region. We rely heavily on exports, mostly to Europe, and so would be the hardest hit from a poor deal. Crashing out without a deal would see our region’s economy shrink by as much as 16 per cent. Even negotiating a free trade deal to give us some level of single market access would result in an 11 per cent decline. The chemical sector, one of Teesside’s biggest industries, would be hardest hit alongside automotive and other manufacturing, food and retail. That means fewer jobs and lower wages for people in our region. Hard Brexit just cannot be an option.

Hard Brexit would also hit public services with tax receipts estimated to fall by between £36bn and £46bn per year – dwarfing the £350m we were all promised would be put into the NHS. To put those numbers in perspective, £36bn is about a third of the NHS budget.

A dangerous message is being pushed by the Tory hard Brexiteers that anyone who questions the impact is trying to frustrate our exit and talk down our country. This is reckless and it will be working people in our region, not them, who will have to pay the consequences. There’s nothing patriotic about a vision of Britain that has greater inequality, higher unemployment, weakened rights, unfettered capitalism and worse environmental sustainability.

We have a right to ask if the path the government are charting is the right one for our country. If we are to really take back control for Teesside then we need to deal with Brexit sensibly and honestly, finding a way to protect current jobs and maximise the creation of new ones. I direct that to the leadership of all parties, including my own. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn explained Labour would seek to negotiate a new UK-EU customs union, and negotiate access to the single market. This is welcome but the impact assessments show the best option for jobs in the North-East is full single market access. Any deal must guarantee this.

At the moment we can trade goods freely across Europe without tariffs and border checks. Leaving this, as the Prime Minister is proposing, would increase the price of goods we sell in Europe and mean hours of border delays for our businesses. The promise of £350m was about employing more doctors and nurses, and not thousands more customs officials. Leaving would also mean we would lose the preferential access to other world markets that the EU has negotiated. Outside of the customs union we would have to negotiate our own deals. These often take many years to hammer out and there is no guarantee that they would make up for the lost trade with Europe.

EU single market participation is crucial to businesses across the North-East, and the thousands of people they employ. Britain has played a key role over the years in developing the single market, helping to remove barriers to trade for British businesses. We have helped to develop the high product standards Europe is known for – for example not allowing chlorinated chicken from the US.

Neither would staying in the single market affect our ability to turn Teesport into a free port. There are 85 free zones across the EU and we could still secure this boost to trade and investment without going down the route of a hard Brexit. Just as we could be more actively supporting British industries, as many other EU states support their own, without falling foul of state aid rules. Other EU countries have stepped in to support their steel industries, while standing back and letting ours go to the wall in 2015 was a deliberate strategy of the Tory free-marketeers who currently run our country.

Staying in the single market does mean accepting the principle of freedom of movement but there are many steps we could take to better control immigration. There are a number of safeguards we could be applying, for example, negotiating an ‘emergency brake’ in particular sectors if we think immigration is pushing down wages. Reforms to tackle the problems with posted workers undercutting local workers are also being pushed by President Macron of France.

People in our region who overwhelming voted to leave felt our area was forgotten and let down. Making us even poorer with hard Brexit will not help. We cannot allow a small number of right wing Brexiteers in the Tory party to play fast and loose with the economic and social fortunes of our region. We owe it to future generations to get this right.