Currently, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has made its journey through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and is now entering what is known as ‘ping pong’. This is the process by which a bill will go back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords until both Houses reach an agreement on the exact wording of the Bill.
When the Bill left the Commons earlier this year, there were a lot of areas contained within the Bill that the Labour Party did not agree with. Our colleagues in the Lords have done a very good job of holding the Government’s feet to the fire and amending the Bill so that, whilst still by no means perfect, it is vastly improved.
The Lords made a whole host of amendments to the Bill, including strengthening the ‘meaningful vote’; a customs union; preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland; protection of EU derived rights; the Charter of Fundamental Rights; limiting the scope of Henry VIII powers; removing a fixed ‘exit day’; powers of legal challenge; general principles; a negotiating mandate; refugee family reunion; EU agencies; a Triage Committee; environmental principles; amendments to Clause 11 which deals with devolution; and amendments concerning the European Economic Area.
Each of these amendments to the Bill are very important in their own right and it is absolutely vital that the UK Government allows for adequate time for these amendments to be full scrutinised in the Commons.
As I said, each of these amendments are very important, but it is my opinion that some of these amendments are absolutely critical and must remain as part of the bill if the UK Government has any hope in succeeding in achieving a Brexit deal that works for the UK.
Of the various amendments, the one I believe would ensure that the UK Government cannot make a mess of the final Brexit agreement is the strengthening of the meaningful vote. The amendment would ensure that if any agreement is rejected by the House of Commons, it would then be for Parliament – and not the Prime Minister – to decide next steps. This builds on the amendment passed with Labour support in the Commons (amendment 7) to legislate for a ‘meaningful vote’, and would remove the possibility of the Prime Minister presenting this as a simple ‘take it or leave it’ vote. This amendment would therefore reduce the likelihood this vote could lead to a no deal scenario – a scenario that would be catastrophic for our country.
Similarly, the amendment regarding the customs union would require Ministers to lay a report before Parliament outlining steps taken to negotiate a customs union with the EU. Labour believe a new Customs Union is the best way to ensure frictionless trade with the EU, support our manufacturing industry and prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.
When it comes to Northern Ireland, we should all be greatly concerned about the Government’s willingness to play down the possibility of a hard border while doing nothing to prevent there from being one. That is why I was delighted that the Lords produced an amendment that seeks to ensure that no physical infrastructure (including border posts, customs checks, or security checks) can be introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic following exit day, and that nothing in the Act can diminish full North-South cooperation or compromise the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
Labour recognise the huge benefits that the Single Market provides for UK businesses, consumers and workers. In a transitional phase we would seek to stay inside the Single Market and accept common rules. We would negotiate a new and strong relationship with the single market that retains the benefits, including full tariff-free access and a floor under existing rights, standards and protections.
We have been clear from day one about our aims and ambitions for Brexit. That is why my colleague Keir Starmer set out his six tests, some of which are commitments that were made by the Government at the outset of this process, and we intend to hold them to those commitments. The six tests are below:
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
- Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
- Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
- Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
When it comes to the final Brexit deal, we will judge whether it meets our six tests for Brexit and we will not vote for it if it does not. That is why it is absolutely imperative that we have a meaningful vote in Parliament, because Labour would never vote for a bad Brexit deal that would be detrimental to our economy, our jobs or our rights.
Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I really appreciate you taking the time to inform me of the issues that concern you most about the Brexit process. I hope this update is of interest and provides you with some greater clarity on where things are currently.