I thought it might be helpful to provide a further update on my work as part of Labour’s Shadow Brexit team, following Parliament’s approval of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, without the amendments that Labour was pressing
I campaigned passionately for the UK to remain part of the EU – to protect jobs, keep us safer and maintain our standing in the world. As an internationalist, who believes that we achieve more by working together, I was deeply disappointed by the outcome. But I accept the result was a vote to leave. This Bill has given the Prime Minister the power to implement that result.
As the Bill has gone through Parliament, Labour has tried to build in safeguards. We have tried to make sure this huge task facing the Government – negotiating our future relationship with our closest partners – is done in the national interest. You can read more about our proposed amendments to the Bill here.
People might have voted to leave the EU, but they did not vote to lose out. There has been no clarity on the terms of our exit, like whether businesses pay tariffs on European imports and exports. Will we be part of joint security programmes like the European Arrest Warrant? What about our rights when we go on holiday in Europe? Labour pushed for the Government to publish its plan for Brexit, and the Government reluctantly agreed, publishing a White Paper.
But the White Paper provoked as many questions as it answered, so we tried to amend the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill to require the Government, in law, to be guided by the interests of our economy in the Brexit negotiations, to protect hard-won protections for workers and the environment, to commit to anti-tax-avoidance and evasion measures, and provide regular reports back to Parliament so the British people can have a say as negotiations progress.
We pressed the Government to give Parliament a vote on its proposed Brexit deal, so that we could make sure it stuck to these guiding principles. We also called on the Government to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living and working here. That is the fair thing to do and it is the best way of ensuring Brits in other EU countries will get the same treatment. When Labour’s amendments on these two key issues were defeated in the House of Commons, we took the fight to the House of Lords. There they were agreed by Peers from all parties and none, who asked the Government to think again.
So yesterday our amendments came back to the House of Commons. But the Government rejected all of our proposed changes to the Bill, using the Conservative majority in the House of Commons to pass the Bill unamended. This shows huge contempt for the people of this country – whether they voted to leave or remain in the EU. Instead of bringing the country together, after the divisive referendum campaign, the Government is avoiding answering difficult questions by making out that those asking them are trying to stop Brexit. But Labour will not stop challenging the Government about their approach to Brexit.
In a volatile world, so much depends on us having a close and collaborative relationship with our European partners. We support a strong and successful EU in the face of external challenges, from Donald Trump encouraging its collapse to Vladimir Putin undermining its stability. We will argue for the best possible Brexit deal -; one that prioritises jobs and the economy and leads to no changes rights guaranteed by the EU, including workplace rights and environmental protections. We will insist that all protections in EU laws are introduced into UK law without qualification, limitation or sunset clauses.
We will seek to maintain our membership of the joint institutions from which we benefit, from the European Medicines Agency to Euratom, and we absolutely reject any suggestion that if talks break down, we should leave the EU with no deal. This would be total failure on the part of the Government and would be catastrophic for our country – for jobs, for tax revenue for our NHS and much much more besides. In my role as one of Labour’s Shadow Brexit Ministers, I will continue to push the Government to act in the national interest in these hugely important negotiations, and reject the dangerous isolationism advocated by many in the Conservative Party. I have always believed that we achieve more working with our partners at home and abroad than we do alone. The Government needs to understand this has never been more true. I will continue to make that case.