Update on the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

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10 February 2017
On Wednesday, the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill cleared the final stage in the House of Commons. I voted against the Bill’s Third Reading for the reasons I outlined last week, but it was passed by 494 to 122. I was particularly disappointed that Government MPs rejected all amendments during the rushed debate, but the Bill moves to the House of Lords on 20th February and they will have further opportunities to try to amend it.

After last week’s Second Reading, the Government finally published its Brexit White Paper, but it was a simple wish list that only served to show how many unanswered questions there are, just weeks before the Prime Minister intends to trigger Article 50. The Government does not yet know what its negotiating position is; what our new immigration system or customs arrangements should be; how it will maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland; what our status will be with the many European agencies whose work we benefit from; or how we will protect the rights of EU citizens who have made the UK their home and the 1 million British people living in mainland Europe. The Government is still to consult businesses on our future trade policy, yet Ministers want to start negotiations next month. The White Paper told us more about what Ministers had already done – like how many Parliamentary Questions they have “answered” – than how they will deliver the best possible deal for the UK. And it provided no evidence to support a hard Brexit.

MPs tabled hundreds of amendments to the Government’s brief Bill. I co-sponsored ones guaranteeing Parliament a role in approving or rejecting the negotiated deal; on the impact of leaving the Single Market; requiring an Equality Impact Assessment; to protect workers’ rights; to protect the rights of EU citizens; on trade deals and human rights; on environmental protections; and to require Brexit Ministers to honour their pledge to increase NHS funding by £350 million a week.

MPs got to vote on just 16 amendments, but they were all defeated – including the amendment on NHS funding, despite the clear promise made to voters during the referendum campaign. Constituents have mainly been contacting me in support of Parliamentary sovereignty and protecting the rights of EU citizens. I voted for the Labour Frontbench amendment to guarantee Parliamentary oversight of the negotiations and for another requiring Parliamentary approval for the proposed deal before final agreement with the European Parliament and Commission, but the Government disagreed that these important principles deserved to be enshrined in law. On EU citizens already living here, we voted on the Harriet Harman amendment that I co-signed, which would have guaranteed that their residency rights were not affected. Unfortunately, the Government once again refused to support this.

The Bill still has a number of Parliamentary stages before it becomes law, and the UK is facing at least two years of negotiations before we leave the EU, so I will be encouraging Ministers to reflect on the need for more careful analysis, to work collaboratively and to respect the fears and hopes of everyone in the UK. Most importantly, we need to stop the Government rushing headfirst into a hard Brexit that could be disastrous for our country.


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