Article 50: Committee Stage of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

I have been contacted by a large number of constituents about Brexit and amendments that were tabled and debated on the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill last week, on all sides of the debate.

I didn’t support the Leave campaign and I believe that there will still be dark days ahead because of the decision to leave the EU; but I think trust in politics and politicians would plummet to new lows if we fail to accept the result of the referendum, posing even greater risks to our economy, our security and our future. For me and for many Labour MPs the Article 50 vote presented an agonising choice and I have thought long and hard about the right course of action.

Although I am fiercely pro-EU, I am also a democrat. The Labour Party voted in favour of the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which paved the way for the referendum to take place, and everyone who campaigned knew the outcome would be decisive.

That is why I have repeatedly said that although I wish the outcome of the referendum had been different, I accept the result. It follows that it would be wrong simply to frustrate the process and to block the Prime Minister from starting the Article 50 negotiations.

It is important to remember that this is all the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill does – it doesn’t allow the Prime Minister to change domestic law, to rip up our tax legislation or to introduce a new immigration system. Any such changes would require primary legislation, and Labour will fight to protect our values and for the national interest.

With the concessions Labour has achieved, I also believe this gives some protections in the negotiating process. My key concerns have been on what our future relationship with Europe would be like, particularly in relation to our ability for tariff-free trade.

Over the last three months Labour has been working to put in place proper scrutiny of the Brexit process. Although each step has been incremental, the Government has moved its position from October – when they had no plan, were insisting there would be no running commentary and would not commit to a vote on the final Article 50 deal – to:

  1. Publishing a 76 page White Paper on which Parliament can hold them to account. This was one of Labour’s planned amendments for Committee Stage, but this was withdrawn after the Government’s concession.
  2. A commitment to match reporting back procedures that are in place in the European Parliament during the Article 50 process.
  3. A vote in Parliament on the proposed draft Article 50 deal before it is considered by the EU Parliament or Council, as well as a second vote on the final EU-UK deal that will shape our future relationship with the EU.

Taken together these show progress has been made. The process would have been better if the Government had accepted some of the other amendments Labour tabled at Committee Stage – for example to guarantee the legal rights of EU citizens – but Labour will continue to campaign for these changes.

As you will be aware, triggering Article 50 is just the start of the Brexit process, not the end. Labour will hold the Government to account throughout and push for the best possible Brexit deal: one that prioritises jobs, the economy and living standards. We will fight against a damaging Tory Brexit and vigorously oppose any threat to rip up existing economic and social protections, including slashing corporate taxes and public spending.

We will also demand during the passage of the Great Repeal Bill that all EU-derived rights – including workers’ rights, human rights, consumer rights and environmental protections – are entrenched in full, unqualified and non-time limited form.

We now must ensure that the Government delivers on their promises. The risk of a ‘hard’ Brexit to our economy and jobs cannot be underestimated. People are already struggling now; a ‘hard’ Brexit – where we have no EU trade deal and have to rely on World Trade Organisation (WTO) punitive terms with a knock on impact on the cost of goods and services which will ultimately hit jobs – will make it much, much worse and once again the poorest will be the hardest hit.

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