Brexit goes to Parliament

On returning from LP conference in September last year, I predicted that the left/right split had been added to by arguments over Brexit and Immigration. The last couple of days has shown this clearly. It starts from May’s declaration that the UK will be seeking to leave the single market and the customs union, the so-called “Hard Brexit”. This is because they wrongly think that this is the only way to implement more restrictive border controls and for reasons I can’t really understand hate the European Court of Justice. The UK Supreme Court has since ruled that only Parliament can agree to leave the EU and implement Article 50’s intention to quit. This article looks at the politics of the situation, especially as it applies to the Parliamentary Labour Party and argues that Labour’s policy of defining red-lines, and asking for a second mandate if the terms of exit are unacceptable are fair, democratic and desirable.

Do the Tories believe they have a mandate for a hard Brexit, their behaviour suggests not, or that their leadership don’t believe they can get it through (this) Parliament. The Government Bill has been published.  [ Text ] The Tory Government (probably) want to keep their negotiating hand secret, put in the Article 50 notice and keep all further deliberation on an inter-governmental basis. Evidence for this is that they are also using the executive powers of government; EU academics are leaving or being told to leave, we have quit Euratom, which is a national security issue and now it seems that the Erasmus programme is now in jeopardy.

This isn’t good enough for those of us for whom this is the political issue of our life. The referendum is not the last word, it’s not Labour’s policy and why should those of us who voted to remain give up, we know the Brexiters wouldn’t. I promise to use all my political power, which let’s face it is not much to seek to remain. I can see no terms of departure which are better for the British people or myself than remaining. On economic and democratic terms, I have stated why I think this so, and if anything, the behaviour of the Tories in Parliament brings home the fact that we have better Law from the European Court and its fundamental charter of rights than we do from our sovereign parliament. (I am even firmer in this view than I was last summer.)

The EU does not have a hereditary Head of State, nor an appointed legislative chamber and it has a constitution and a bill of (citizen) rights. I also think we i.e. the UK would benefit from the Lisbon treaty’s subsidiarity clause so that local government could represent their citizens.

I shall oppose leaving, for ever, it’s my right as a citizen; if the EU offers continued citizenship, I’ll take it up, I would consider emigrating but I suspect that I have missed the opportunity to go to one of the EU countries and acquire naturalisation rights.

I believe that the UK must negotiate to leave in good faith and that a second mandate must be sought to confirm that what has been agreed meets the terms of the referendum and the current bill/act. I believe that only the Tories can do this and I’d prefer they did this while accountable to a Parliament in which they only have a majority of 11.

As is common knowledge now, Labour is in a bind. ⅔ of Labour’s voters want to remain, ⅔ of Labour’s seats want to leave, but Labour’s Conference policy is clear,

“[Conference] recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained, …. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum.”

Too many MPs are still fighting a left/right battle. In my conference report I criticised the continuing habit of Labour’s frontbench in considering that policy development was a unique privilege of the front bench, and that while I am happier with the current front bench than the previous one, it’s still not right. We now have over ½ million members and they should be asked what they think and listened to. Over the weekend, elements of the Corbyn vs. rump New Labour arguments have crept into the debate. This is not to my mind appropriate.

I am happy to respect the referendum result as advice to parliament and that those who voted to leave should be given the opportunity to negotiate what this means.  In order to hold the Government accountable, Labour have published 9 amendments. One of which is that Parliament has the last word on the agreement. We should also note that we also propose to ensure that the rights of EU citizen residents in the UK are guaranteed (and those of British residents of EU member states).

The PLP whip is completely fucked. It wasn’t Corbyn and his allies in the Campaign Group that broke it; Labour has never been able to whip its membership nor the PLP on referenda issues. In some ways it makes sense since the act of voting in referenda is individual, but I don’t see a massive Rule 2.I.4.B purge aimed at those who opposed Alternate Vote.  What Corbyn has decided on the whip and the Bill is unclear. Mike Sivier writes clearly that voting for the 2nd reading, and voting for the amendments should be whipped as its good Parliamentary tactics and good strategy. Corbyn in his letter to all members states,

Labour respects the will of the British people. But we do not respect the will of a Tory government that is threatening to relegate Britain to a bargain basement tax haven.

That’s why we will vote to trigger Article 50 in the European Union Withdrawal Bill — but also will use every means at our disposal to make sure jobs, living standards, workers’ rights and environmental protections are protected in the negotiations that follow.

So Labour has tabled a series of amendments to the Bill to ensure there is meaningful parliamentary scrutiny at every stage and a vote on the final deal.

There is a fear amongst those of us who have supported Corbyn and the turn to the left that he and more likely some of his advisors (McDonnell & Milne) are happy with the opportunity to support a soft Brexit. Where they are deluded is the idea that without the European Court there is any chance that the Tory’s will keep to any promises on workers & consumer rights.  I am happy with the line that Labour needs to speak to its supporters in the 52% but needs to hold the Tory Government to account. Labour also needs to show those in the referendum majority that Labour is not just ignoring the referendum. But I think it fair that once we all know the terms of departure, we should have a chance to think again.

Labour’s amendments do this, but the question is what to do if the amendments fall, particularly the sunset clauses.

i.e. those that require the Government to keep Parliament informed and to ask for permission once the deal is known.

I would argue to oppose.

It seems that some Labour MPs plan to vote against the 2nd reading and Heidi Alexander has moved an amendment, the effect of which would be that the Bill falls. I don’t think that the Leader’s Office has communicated its strategy well but this has not been helped by the Guardian and the right wing press.

We must all keep our eyes on the prize; remaining in the EU on the basis of a democratic mandate.

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