A Guide to this Week’s EU Withdrawal Votes
With the 15 Lord’s Amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill due to come before Parliament for consideration this week, I wanted to set out my thoughts for those that have written in to me and constituents generally.
I come to this debate as someone who campaigned for Remain and resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in 2017 on the grounds signing Article 50 on the terms Theresa May offered Parliament, was a mistake.
For the record I believe leaving the EU – despite its many faults – to be a catastrophe for our country. Whatever deal we end up with at the end of the process, we will see ourselves both poorer and with less sovereignty. However, I also understand no matter how flawed the Referendum and the debate preceding it was and no matter how misguided we feel those who voted Leave were, it is not for Parliament to simply ignore and over-turn that decision. What Parliament must now do, in lieu of a second referendum, is ensure the UK gets the most progressive, damage limiting, Brexit deal we can. One that keeps us as close to our European neighbours as is possible on leaving the EU.
Clearly a Second Referendum – giving the people a say on the final deal Theresa May brings back – has the potential to change everything. It’s why so many see this now as the only way to legitimately stop Brexit in its tracks. The Labour front bench has not ruled backing such an undertaking out. I myself made my position on this issue clear when a backbencher back in 2017
That said we are a long way away from that option. In the here and now we must deal with a Tory govt intent on extracting a deal that puts the interest of Tory Party’s political cohesion before it does the interests of our country.
Below are the amendments we’ll be voting on this week and an explanation as to what they do if passed. All are important, and all are opposed, as I understand whilst writing this update, by the Govt.
Suffice to say three of the amendments are politically more contentious than the rest. That’s because they represent a fundamental difference as to how the government wants Brexit to proceed. They are the Customs Union amendment, Parliamentary Power 1 and the European Economic Area (EEA) amendment.
Labour will officially be voting in favour of all of the amendments below except for amendment 13 on the European Economic Area (EEA) – to which we will be abstaining and introducing our own amendment.
Some Remainers believe this to be a mistake. Myself and many other pro-Europeans, including Richard Corbett MEP – Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party – disagree.
In short, the point being made is that the EEA is not the best vehicle for our country to remain in the single market, thus protecting our economy and minimising our loss of sovereignty. The best bet for that is in Labour’s own front-bench amendment that outlines not just bespoke access to the single market but also ‘shared institutions and regulations’ – aspects of a future deal that will be critical if we are to avoid severe economic damage to the UK’s economy. (See a more detailed argument for the Labour front-bench EEA-Plus amendment here:
Of course some argue the real reason to support amendment 13 is to defeat the govt. But given the Labour front bench assessment that we’ll probably be defeated on this amendment (potentially with the support of some Labour MPs who are opposed to it and who see EEA membership as a betrayal of the referendum result) and the fact there are plenty of other opportunities for the government to taste defeat this week, that argument doesn’t really stack-up.
It’s clear to me now is not the time for those opposed to a hard Brexit to begin bickering amongst themselves over hypothetical negotiating positions, we at present have no opportunity to conduct. Being honest and outlining the kind of jobs first Brexit we would want to see negotiated, if no other options remained, is the right approach to take FOR NOW and one I’m happy to support.
The Lord’s Amendments:
The first amendment would require the UK to try to negotiate a customs union with the EU before passing the EU withdrawal bill – running counter to the Government’s current negotiation policy. At the moment, the UK retains the threat of leaving without a comprehensive deal, causing trouble for the Irish border and worries for Dover and supermarket shelves.
Changing EU laws
The second amendment would require Parliament to pass individual bills to change laws that are absorbed back into British law from the EU. Things like trade, farming, fishing and state investment in industry are currently heavily reliant on EU law.
The third amendment would put most of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights directly into UK law.
Protecting EU Law
The fourth amendment protects the second and third by making it more difficult for minister to allow challenges to EU law after it is absorbed by the UK.
Challenging UK Law
The fifth amendment allows British people to go to court in the UK over EU laws absorbed into British law.
The so-called Henry VIII powers allow the government to change laws with less parliamentary scrutiny – to avoid blocking up parliament with a huge number of tiny fixes. The sixth amendment would limit this power.
Parliamentary Power 1
The seventh amendment gives more power to Parliament over deciding the course of Brexit, including the potential for the Commons to reject the deal as it stands at the end of the two-year negotiation period.
Parliamentary Power 2
The eighth amendment requires parliamentary approval for ‘phase two’ negotiation mandate.
The ninth amendment would require ministers to stick to EU rules on allows asylum seekers to join family members in the UK.
Good Friday Agreement
The 10th amendment would put support for the Good Friday Agreement – by which the UK government is already bound – into the EU Withdrawal Bill itself.
The 11th amendment makes clear that the UK can continue to replicate EU law and participate in EU agencies even under future government after Brexit.
Brexit day no more
The 12th amendment would remove the exact date of 29 March 2019 from the bill.
Staying in the EEA
The 13th amendment would force the UK to stay in the EEA, even after leaving the EU, keeping it in the single market.
The 14th amendment would bind ministers to accept recommendations made by both Lords and MPs when it comes to Brexit regulations.
The 15th amendment would keep the EU’s environmental protections, backing them up with a powerful watchdog.