On Wednesday 1st February 2017, I voted in favour of the European Union (Notification Of Withdrawal) Bill Second Reading which when enacted as an act of Parliament will give the Prime Minister power to notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to start negotiations to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Before the referendum, I campaigned passionately for the UK to remain in the European Union, arguing that EU Membership was important for the UK economy, workers’ rights and the environment, and that major issues such as security, climate change, trade and migration are pressing global problems which are best approached collaboratively across nations, in solidarity with our European neighbours.
I was, like many in the constituency, deeply disappointed with the outcome of the referendum.
I was also distressed by the tone of the leave campaigns and, above all, regarding immigration. While I recognise that many in this country have concerns about how immigration has been handled in the UK, there was of course Nigel Farage’s infamous and despicable ‘Breaking Point’ poster inciting fear of migrants and refugees as a reason to leave the EU. The increase in hate was also perceptible. Following the referendum, racist literature was distributed to many addresses in our constituency and there was a shameful spike in hate crime across the country.
I have sympathy for those who say that in the midst of these worrying trends, Members of Parliament should vote against Article 50 to hold the line against the tide of isolationism and xenophobia and to protect workers’ rights and jobs.
However, I voted in favour of the European Union Referendum Bill in 2015, which legislated for the referendum on the 23 June 2016, and believe that having called for a referendum, as a democrat I should therefore not reject the result.
Trust in politics and politicians is already very low. Whilst the referendum was advisory in legal terms, I fear that if the UK Parliament were to block a referendum which was given to voters with the express consequence that the UK would either leave or remain in the EU following the vote, the anti-politics mood in our country would only increase at a time when moderate politics is already being challenged in other bastions of democracy. To attempt to put our divided country back together, I feel that voting for the bill is now the best course.
This does not mean that I will give the Government a blank cheque. The Government has a mandate to leave the EU but no mandate for how we will leave. In the UK parliamentary system, it is the job of all Members of Parliament of all parties to scrutinise the Government and I and my Labour colleagues will fight throughout the Brexit negotiations for a deal that prioritises jobs, the economy and workers’ rights.
While the EU benefits from trade with the UK, and in particular through its access to UK financial services and markets, it is clear that the EU is not going to give us better terms outside the club than inside it. The UK will have to strike trade deals with other parts of the world to make up for losing membership of the Single Market.
As a member of Parliament’s International Trade Committee, I will scrutinise the Government’s post-Brexit trade plans and deals, and can assure you that I will be a voice for a progressive outcome to our post-Brexit trade future, both in respect of the trade deal we make with the EU27 and any other deals we make with other countries around the world. I will press the Government to lay out clearly who in the UK will lose out from us leaving the Single Market and what action they will take to protect livelihoods and retrain those who may lose their jobs. Likewise, all new trade deals create winners and losers as some industries face increased competition from foreign rivals and other industries gain access to foreign markets and grow. I will insist that the Government is absolutely clear who are likely to be the winners and losers from their proposed deals, and ensure that they take proper action to mitigate the downsides and protect workers.