As I head down to Westminster it is still unclear how the Prime Minister intends to respond to the Brexit crisis that she has created.
Time and again she had the chance to reach out to build a consensus across parties and bring the country together after the divisive referendum – following the narrow verdict in the referendum itself, after the General Election in which people rejected her appeal for a mandate for a hard Brexit, in December when it was clear her deal would fail in the Commons, and after each of the three votes in which it has been rejected.
On every occasion she turned away from consensus and focused on the demands of the hard right of her Party; the people that had driven the leave campaign and were rightly described by her Chancellor as Brexit extremists. She refused to compromise and attacked Parliament, most recently in deeply irresponsible terms.
So last week, MPs took control of the Commons agenda to explore support for other options. The Prime Minister just ploughed on regardless, putting her deal to the Commons again on Friday. This time she separated the terms of our departure – the Withdrawal Agreement – from our future relationship – the Political Declaration. I voted against it again because the two are intrinsically entwined. Labour will not accept a blindfold Brexit; leaving with no clarity on our future relationship.
Labour’s view, as I’ve set out in the Commons, is to seek a close economic relationship with the EU and to support a public vote between the best leave option and remaining in the EU. That was reflected in the ‘indicative votes’ that I backed last Wednesday:
- Confirmatory public vote(Amendment M) – Moved by Labour’s Margaret Beckett, it called for the ratification of any deal though a public vote and secured the highest number of votes (268).
- Customs Union (Amendment J) – Moved by Ken Clarke, it required the Government to seek a customs union with the EU and got the second highest number of votes (264).
- Labour’s Alternative Plan(Amendment K) – Setting out proposals for a customs union, close relationship with the single market, alignment of rights and protections, participation in EU agencies and strong security co-operation, it got the third highest number of votes (237).
- Common Market 2.0 (Amendment D) – Moved by Conservative Nick Boles, it called for membership of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) providing participation in the single market as part of European Economic Area (EEA), together with a ‘customs arrangement’. I had concerns about its failure to seek a full customs union, but felt it was worth exploring further.
- Revocation to avoid no deal (Amendment L) – Moved by the SNP’s Joanne Cherry, it called on the Government to revoke Article 50, which gave notice of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, if there is no deal a day before the Article 50 deadline.
As expected, none achieved a majority and so today we will be seeing what potential there is to achieve agreement around the most popular options. On Wednesday, we’ll then set out plans for the legislation needed to move forward on this basis and seek a further extension to Article 50.
Incredibly, it seems that Theresa May is planning to put her deal back to Parliament for a fourth time. If she does, Labour will reject it again for all the reasons I set out here. Whatever happens we will work with others of all parties to make sure that we do not crash out of the EU without a deal on the new deadline of 12th April.