I wanted to share with constituents my thinking behind my decision to abstain on the EU (Future Relationship) Bill about to be voted on this week. Before I do there are a couple of myths that need to be squared away.
1. This is not a vote on the EU trade deal. ‘No-deal’ isn’t really a possibility because of this vote. That boat has already sailed. Boris Johnson as PM signed that last week. The only way parliament can undo this deal is to bring down this PM and government and install a govt and PM that would then ensure ‘no-deal.’.. However, the timescale for that and the general election to enable it is all but impossible given the deadlines involved and the government’s majority.
2. This vote is about the implementation of the bill. In effect the nuts and bolts of current legislation that will enable the deal to actually happen in UK law. Clearly if there was a remote chance of the govt being defeated on this (there isn’t given the ERG ‘star chamber’ has now endorsed the deal and will therefore presumably support the implementation bill as well) possibly causing some disruption and a crisis for the govt. Given that much of this bill could be done through secondary legislation (which requires no votes and where it does is stacked in the govt’s favour) if the government so desired, what little couldn’t would be more embarrassment than chaos.
This bill therefore is about giving govt ministers carte blanche – aka a blank cheque – to decide how to implement this bill. That means many of the regulatory bodies and mechanisms used to settle disputes between the EU and UK – especially over ‘regulatory dis-alignment’ (ie workers rights, environmental standards, food standards, state aid etc shifting from current EU standards) will be set up without any further scrutiny or oversight from parliament.
If we accept Brexit was solely about sovereignty and ‘taking back control’ (which I don’t) then by this metric what the Labour Party front bench are doing is put tying their trust in a Boris Johnson govt to deliver systems that are democratic, accountable, transparent and the ability for detailed scrutiny. Call me a cynic but having watched the govt’s multi-billion pound corruption surrounding Covid19 contracts (and often no contracts at all) and knowing what I know of this govt and it’s ideological objectives, I don’t see that happening.
The job of opposition is to scrutinise, hold to account and oppose the govt of the day where necessary. (Ive written more on the democratic deficit of this trade deal here: https://www.independent.co.uk/…/brexit-trade-deal-boris… ) On this – one of the biggest pieces of legislation surrounding possibly the biggest strategic shift in more than 40 years we have decided as an opposition to forgo that obligation and responsibility.
I’m not seeking rebellion for its own sake. I thought long and hard about voting against. But I understand the front bench’s contention that irrelevant of the detail above, this is about the perception Labour has ‘moved on’ as regards Brexit. That’s a sentiment I share. But it’s also the job of the Opposition to clearly articulate what exactly is happening and why it is pursuing a said course of action, not to roll over and ‘go with the flow’ or whatever propaganda the govt and its friends in the media are portraying. A whip to abstain – never my preferred option – would allow us to hold together as a party, not play to the media’s ‘Labour splits’ narrative, and effectively say we won’t give this govt a blank cheque to roll over potential democratic oversight of this critical bill/these yet be determined mechanisms or will we give the perception we are trying stop implementation. It’s a compromise I admit but given the lack of options a far better one than voting for.
Ultimately when govt ministers begin the process of riding roughshod over democratic checks and balances as regards this trade deal, Labour wont have a leg to stand on having given this govt lock, stock and every right to do what we know they will – ensure they are unhindered in pursuing their Thatcherite deregulatory agenda on standards and rights.