Opposition motion on Brexit

Published on: 9 December 2016

In the months since the referendum many constituents have been in touch keen to know more about what exiting the EU will mean in practice.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave it was clear there was no plan on how it would be carried out.

I saw this first-hand, as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, when the Treasury told me just two weeks after the verdict that they had not made any preparations for a vote to leave

Six months after the result we still have no clear plan from the Government; no idea of how Parliament will be allowed to formally engage and influence the process and no certainty for EU citizens who have made Britain their home or for Britons living in Europe.

This is the most important political issue facing Britain, and the Government’s plans must be transparent and subject to public scrutiny.

Yesterday, Labour, ably led in this area by my colleague Sir Keir Starmer MP, the shadow Secretary of State for exiting the European Union, tabled a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before article 50 is invoked.

Late on Tuesday evening, facing a revolt by Conservative backbenchers who also wanted this information and were willing to support the Labour Party position, the Government announced it would accept the Labour motion, but only with their own amendment attached.

In accepting Labour’s position the Government did not promise to do anything. It has not committed to publishing anything specific. No white or green paper (a white paper is a discussion document ahead of a bill being published; a green paper is draft legislation). Theresa May now says she wants a red, white and blue Brexit. I don’t care what colour the Government choose, without a plan it remains a blank sheet of paper.

If the Government wanted to change the dangerous dogs act it would require a vote in Parliament to do so. And yet it has made it clear that it wants to move ahead on the biggest constitutional issue in a generation without any input from Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s amendment was a political manoeuvre to get support from MPs to invoke article 50 by March 2017.

The Government is still not being clear about what detail it will provide and with only three months to go Theresa May is binding us to a firm and immovable date to trigger article 50. The day article 50 is triggered, the UK is cut out of all discussions with the remaining 27 members of the EU and we lose all power to set out what we want. These countries will be in a room together deciding Britain’s relationship with the EU but no-one from the British Government will be present.

What we need is an actual plan from Government. A plan that protects jobs, living standards and EU citizens.

In Hackney I have been approached by many people in tears because of their worry about what leaving the EU will mean for them and their families. Others have raised concerns about the impact on the industry or sector in which they work. The lack of certainty is causing real anxiety and I cannot support a headlong rush into exiting the EU on this timetable when we have no idea what the Government will be putting on the table before our country is cut out of all discussions.

In Hackney 78 per cent of people voted to remain, but all voters whether leavers or remainers deserve to know what exit will mean for them, their families, the economy and their jobs.

Quite simply I voted against the Government amendment because I will not vote to invoke article 50 without any details of what sort of Brexit the Government will pursue. Without any parameters being set ahead of article 50 we are at the mercy of the remaining EU members. Unfortunately the Government amendment was passed, therefore I was unable to vote for the full motion.

We still do not know if the Government will ultimately allow for a binding vote on the triggering of article 50. We are still awaiting a Supreme Court ruling. Even if the court rules that constitutionally Parliament should be able to vote we don’t know exactly what mechanism or type of vote Parliament would be offered. My fear is that the Government will use yesterday’s vote as a licence to invoke article 50 without any further say by Parliament.

Reluctant as I am to leave, I do recognise the outcome of the referendum but a delay until we have more information and proper scrutiny would, I strongly believe, lead to a better outcome for Britain and Hackney.

Labour’s motion;

That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.

Government amendment;

…at end add ‘, consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.