European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
My thanks to all of you who have contacted me recently about the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and its future consideration by the House of Commons.
I didn’t support the Bill at its Second Reading on 11 September – I voted against it – because significant changes are needed to make it acceptable. I also voted against the Programme Motion - which proposed just 8 days to scrutinise the Bill in committee - because I do not think that is enough time. As someone who campaigned hard for Remain, I have to accept that the UK will be leaving the EU at the end of March 2019, but the task we now face is to secure a good deal to safeguard jobs, security, the environment, workers’ rights and sensible co-operation in future.
In the debate on the Bill, MPs on all sides expressed serious concerns about the extent of its proposed powers that will allow Ministers to singlehandedly make changes to our laws with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. These are sweeping powers that require effective oversight by Parliament but such safeguards are currently missing from the Bill. You can read the speech I made using the link below or watch it here https://goo.gl/QRLFqS.
Brexit should not result in any worsening of workers' rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections, and so I will oppose any attempts to diminish, qualify or limit these. I would also like to see the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights converted into domestic law. This Charter has been really important in helping people to seek fair treatment, but the Government has so far refused to include it.
Brexit should also not be an excuse to hoard powers in Westminster and I believe the Bill takes the wrong approach on devolution. There should be a presumption throughout this process that devolved powers transferred from the EU will go straight to the relevant region or nation.
The Bill will now go into a committee of the whole House of Commons. A large number of amendments have been put down to limit the powers that ministers are seeking and I will continue to press for full scrutiny and effective Parliamentary control of what happens.
Current state of the Brexit Negotiations
The UK’s negotiations with the EU are, let’s face it, not going well. The negotiators are still discussing money, Northern Ireland and the future rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the rest of the EU. They have not even begun to talk about the fundamental question of our future economic and trading relationship. The negotiations have not been helped by the Conservative government’s changing position.
It is now absolutely clear that it will not be possible to reach an agreement on our future relationship between now and the target date for the end of the negotiations in October 2018. Therefore, if we are going to avoid a cliff-edge for our economy - or even worse leaving with no deal, which would be a disaster – then we are going to have to agree transitional arrangements on the same basic terms that we currently enjoy, including remaining within the single market and inside a customs union with the EU, for a period of time. This is Labour’s position as set out by Keir Starmer earlier in the summer, and we will continue to press the government to adopt it. It would at the very least minimise the change that would be experienced by British businesses after March 2019 and provide much needed time to negotiate a future partnership with the EU.
There is no more important task we face as a country than getting this right for the sake of our economy, jobs and our future relations with the other 27 member states of the EU, and I will continue to press the Government on this.