When Boris Johnson introduced his first Withdrawal Agreement Bill in October, we opposed it because it was a bad deal for the UK, but the Government won a vote on the principle of the Bill at Second Reading. However, we were successful in leading opposition parties to reject the Government’s attempt to push the Bill through without proper scrutiny, by voting down the programme motion for the Bill. This prompted Boris Johnson to engineer a general election.
Throughout the election, Labour fought on the basis of our opposition to the Government’s Brexit deal, and in favour of giving the public a further say in a second referendum. After securing a majority in the election, the Government put forward an updated Withdrawal Agreement Bill in December, which is in many ways even worse than the Bill we opposed before the election.
It grants expansive power to Ministers and severely diminishes any role for Parliament in the crucial period ahead. It removes Parliament’s role in approving the Government’s negotiating mandate and voting on the final treaty. All protections on workers’ rights have been ditched, confirming that the TUC were right to dismiss the Government’s promises as “meaningless procedural tricks”. The new Northern Ireland Protocol undermines the UK’s internal market – something the Prime Minister had promised his former DUP allies he was committed to protecting. Shamefully the Government has removed the requirement to negotiate an agreement with the EU on unaccompanied children seeking asylum and they have taken away any role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend the implementation period, putting ‘no deal’ is back on the table.
Labour tabled amendments to address all these issues, and more. I spoke for Labour’s amendments at Committee Stage, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and wound up Labour’s contribution on the Bill at Third Reading on Thursday.
Unfortunately, the Government’s majority of 80 means that we were not able to make any changes to the Bill, and it passed Third Reading and now moves to the House of Lords, setting the way for the UK to leave the EU on 31st January. As I said in my speech today, this is only the first part of the story. As we embark on negotiations over our future relationship with the EU, Labour will continue to advocate for close economic partnership and for safeguards on workers’ rights, environmental standards, and the other protections Underwritten by our membership of the EU.