Many people have contacted me regarding the recent vote on the Government’s bill which triggers Article 50 and implements the result of the referendum decision to withdraw from the EU. I am writing to explain why I voted in favour of beginning the process, but refused to support the Bill at third reading.
In my speech during the debate I made it clear that the UK Parliament must be given sovereignty over the Brexit process. I intervened to demand that the bill was amended to grant our Parliament the same rights to information and for a vote on the final agreement as has been granted to the European Parliament. When it became clear that the Prime Minster had rejected all of the amendments put forward to give Parliament the key role in monitoring the Government’s negotiations, I refused to give the bill my support. The Government also rejected amendments that I supported that would have protected the residency rights of EU nationals already living in the UK.
To have voted in favour of the bill at third reading without securing any amendments would have given the Government a blank cheque which I was not prepared to do.
The Government did make several concessions during the debate and the bill must now be amended in the House of Lords to secure these promises into the text of the bill. This will not stop the referendum result being implemented but it will ensure that Parliament can hold the Government to account for the way it handles the exit process on behalf of the country.
I campaigned vigorously for Remain in the referendum campaign because I believe that our country has benefited from being part of the European Union and the people who I am elected to represent would be better off if Britain stayed a member.
Like many of you, I was disappointed by the Brexit victory. However, as a democratically elected MP I cannot justify ignoring the outcome of the referendum. The seven wards that make up the Eltham constituency voted to leave the EU by the same percentage as the national result (you can see the local results of the referendum locally here). When I urged people to vote in favour of remaining in the EU I told them that their votes were important and would determine the future of our country. I did not say that I would not abide by the outcome.
Each time the Government is called to account for its actions over Brexit it becomes increasingly clear that ministers are struggling to understand the complexity of the process facing our country. Threatening our EU neighbours by suggesting that we will turn Britain into a low-wage, low-skill tax haven, or trading petty insults, is not the way for the Government to secure the best deal for our country.
That is why it is so important that Parliament is able to hold the Government to account. Leaving the EU means that our country is entering a period of enormous uncertainty. We must not allow the Government to use Brexit as a way of undermining environmental protections, workers’ rights and our civil liberties.
As I explained in my speech in the debate on Tuesday, negotiating our exit from the EU was going to be more complex than the Government was willing to accept. Article 50 sets a two-year timescale but it could take longer than that to untangle the complex laws and regulations that have been built during our forty years of membership of the EU.
Those who have supported Brexit claim that Britain should be free to negotiate its own trade agreements throughout the world. They have created a false impression that outside of the single market we would be free of any international trade rules and obligations. This is completely false; if we fall out of the EU single market it is not a simple matter to negotiate new trade agreements. In fact the rules under the World Trade Organisation could prove to be even more restrictive and impose competition in all sorts of areas of our public services, particularly our NHS.
Negotiating international trade deals with countries like the USA will also be more difficult than we are being led to believe. Donald Trump may be saying that he wants to do a deal with Britain but he has also said very fervently that he will put America first. Trump will not be personally leading the negotiations. That will be done by experienced negotiators who will be acting on behalf of American interests who want UK markets opened up for competition. They will not hold back from exploiting any advantage they hold – to the disadvantage of the UK.
Our Government has too few people with the experience and expertise needed for negotiating international trade deals because for the last forty years these have been done through the EU in partnership with the all of the other member countries.
Britain now faces detailed negotiations with the EU to deal with Brexit and to establish new relationships with our neighbours whilst at the same time preparing to negotiate its own trade deals with countries outside of the EU. Employing the huge numbers of people with these skills is going to take time and will be extremely difficult.
I am extremely angry that the Government refused to accept amendments that would have enabled MPs to look out for interests of their constituents. We are leaving the EU but that does not mean that we should not have the right to ask questions of the Government set out in the legislation. After so many years demanding that our UK Parliament is sovereign over the laws of this land Tory MPs have now voted to deny UK MPs the same rights as members of the European Parliament have over the process.
I accept the result of the referendum, however I do not believe that people voted for the Government to be given a blank cheque leaving them free from any democratic accountability to negotiate any deal free of scrutiny.
I will continue to honour the result of the referendum, but I will not stop demanding that the Government explains its actions to Parliament throughout this process.