Having campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote, I was saddened and frustrated by the outcome. For me and for many Labour MPs the Article 50 vote now presents an agonising choice and I have thought long and hard about the right course of action.
Although I am fiercely pro-EU, I am also a democrat. The Labour Party voted in favour of the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which paved the way for the referendum to take place, and everyone who campaigned knew the outcome would be decisive.
That is why I have repeatedly said that although I wish the outcome of the referendum had been different, I accept the result.
It follows that it would be wrong simply to frustrate the process and to block the Prime Minister from starting the Article 50 negotiations. I will not therefore be voting against the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill this week.
The ballot paper on 23 June last year did not, however, give the Prime Minister power to act as she sees fit or to change our domestic laws or policy. That is why I will be supporting a number of Labour amendments that would significantly improve the Bill and ensure Parliament can hold the Prime Minister to account throughout negotiations.
First, these amendments would ensure MPs have a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal – that means the House of Commons has the first say on any proposed deal before it is considered by the European Council and Parliament. This would strengthen the House of Commons’ ability to influence the negotiating process and mean that MPs could send the Government back to the negotiating table if they are unhappy with the proposed final deal.
Second, the Government should report back to Parliament regularly during the negotiations so that progress can be known and checked. Labour has also tabled amendments that establish a number of broad principles the Government must seek to negotiate, including protecting workers’ rights and securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market. We will also try to ensure that the legal status of EU citizens already living in the UK is guaranteed before negotiations begin – a point that is long overdue.
It is also important to recognise that the triggering of Article 50 is merely the start of the process for leaving the EU, it is not the end.
Any changes the Prime Minister seeks to make to domestic law would need separate legislation to be passed through Parliament, whether through the Great Repeal Bill or more widely.
Labour will argue throughout for a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first and protects vital workers’ rights and environmental protections. We also totally reject the Prime Minister’s threat to rip up the economic and social fabric of the country and turn Britain into a tax haven economy if she fails in her negotiations.
I know that many constituents have called for me to oppose this Bill and to vote against Article 50.
I see the argument, but I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for our constituency or the country. What we need now is to accept the referendum result, to fight for the best possible Brexit deal and to hold the Government to account every step of the way.
That is what I and the Labour Party will do.