This is the third letter that was sent out to all constituents that have previously contacted me on the subject of Brexit. This letter was written on 07 May 2019, with the previous letters being written on 05 December 2018 & 31 January 2019.
For many of you this letter will be the third you have received from me on the subject of Brexit in as many months. The situation has been changing at such a dramatic speed that I thought it appropriate to wait until matters became more settled and slightly clearer before I wrote to you again. As ever, I want to re-assure you that this is the same letter I send out to all my constituents who contact me, whether supporting Leave or Remain.
You can find my previous letters to constituents on my website, as well as the speech I made in the House of Commons. (https://www.barrygardiner.com/policy/2019/01/31/barrys-letter-to-constituents-on-brexit/)
Just prior to my previous letter, you will recall that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal suffered the largest defeat in history for any sitting Government (by 432 votes to 202, a majority of 230 votes!)
Following the first meaningful vote defeat, the Prime Minister said she would work on three changes: being more flexible, open and inclusive with Parliament; embedding protections on workers’ rights and the environment; and working to identify how to ensure no hard border in Northern Ireland in a way that has the support of Parliament and the EU.
I was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s words as she had identified three of the main reasons why her own deal was not fit for purpose. However, I soon realised that my optimism was misplaced as the Prime Minister once again ignored her own promises and reneged on all three of the changes she told the House she would make. I made it clear in my first letter that at every stage of the Brexit process, the Prime Minister has tried to exclude Parliament:
- The Labour Party argued that the Prime Minister could not trigger Article 50 without a vote in parliament. The Supreme Court ruled we were correct.
- The Labour Party argued that parliament had the right to see the “detailed impact assessments” the government said they had prepared. The government refused; but were eventually forced by a parliamentary procedure to publish what turned out to be very sketchy documents indeed.
- The Labour Party argued that parliament should have the right to “a meaningful vote on the final deal “. Again, the government said no; but were forced to concede this.
- The Labour Party argued that parliament had the right to see the financial modelling the government had prepared for the different Brexit scenarios. Again, the government said “No”; and when they were once more forced to concede it became clear that they had not even modelled the actual agreement Theresa May had concluded with the EU, but only her Chequers Proposals.
- The Labour Party argued that parliament had the right to see the full legal opinion prepared by the Attorney General about the Prime Minister’s Agreement with the EU. The Government was later found in contempt of Parliament for denying the full legal opinion.
- The Labour Party argued that Parliament had the right to see the legal advice regarding the Northern Ireland Backstop arrangements. Initially, the government refused but Labour finally forced the government to publish it. We learnt that not only did it confirm that the UK would be locked in the backstop in perpetuity with no unilateral ability to get out, it also established that “GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB to NI”. This went against the whole constitutional unity of the United Kingdom and would have seen different rules and regulations applying in different parts of our country.
Despite her historic defeat on the first meaningful vote in January, The Prime Minister then continually refused to shift her damaging red lines in further talks with Jeremy Corbyn.
MPs voted on the motion on 29 January 2019 where an amendment requiring the Government to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with “alternative arrangements” was passed by 318 votes to 310. The Prime Minister then went back to Brussels to try to negotiate a different backstop arrangement. The EU not unreasonably asked what she meant by “alternative arrangement” and pointed out that this new position from the UK simply meant ‘we don’t like the deal and want something else’ without specifying what that something else was. They maintained that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be re-opened but did approve two additional joint documents to clarify the nature of the backstop. Unfortunately, these additional documents did nothing to allay the fears that were highlighted in the government’s own legal advice on the backstop.
The Prime Minister’s deal is deeply flawed – it will not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards, nor ensure frictionless trade for British businesses. I therefore voted again to reject the Prime Minister’s deal, as did the majority of Parliament as it was defeated by 391 votes against to 242 votes for, a majority of 149.
Following the second meaningful vote defeat, MPs approved Government motions on 13 and 14 March 2019 ruling out a No Deal exit from the EU and approving a request for an extension of Article 50, respectively. It is important to note that these votes were NOT binding on the government. However, following a subsequent request by the Prime Minister, the European Council approved an extension of Article 50 to 12 April and more recently a longer extension has been agreed to 31st October 2019. I believe that the Prime Minister’s handling of this has been appalling. Theresa May deliberately ran down the clock and in the end was forced into asking for an extension to avoid a damaging no deal by Parliament. Leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic and the Government cannot plunge our country into chaos because of its own failure to negotiate a good deal. Our country has been left in limbo, with businesses and workers facing deep uncertainty.
After a third attempt to get her Withdrawal Agreement through parliament failed on 29th March (344 votes against to 286 for), I am pleased that the Prime Minister reached out to the Labour Party and asked Jeremy Corbyn to help her find a way forward. We have a responsibility to find an approach that can command the confidence of Parliament and bring our country back together. What is clear is that if these talks are to be successful, the Government will have to compromise on their red lines. Labour MPs have already shown their willingness to compromise through the series of indicative votes where labour MPs voted on average for 5 of the 8 proposals (Conservatives, Lib Dems and TIG MPs voted on average for just 2 of the 8).
Our manifesto in 2017 promised to accept the referendum result but with the proviso that we could not accept a No Deal, and we could not accept a deal that would damage our economy or just in time supply chain on which so many jobs depend. That is why any alternative plan must capture the benefits of a customs union and protect workplace rights and environmental standards and keep a close regulatory alignment with the single market. Our party conference last September united members around the unanimous composite motion that said if it proved impossible to negotiate a good deal along those lines, then Labour would call for a General Election and failing that, all options would remain on the table including a second public vote. Last week our National Executive Committee met and confirmed that position unambiguously. This means that, should the current talks with the government fail to arrive at an acceptable compromise and assuming the Prime Minister refuses to go to the country in a General Election, then Labour will insist upon a public vote on Theresa May’s deal.
I know that many people are ‘sick of Brexit’ and angry about the impact it is having on jobs and businesses. I share these frustrations. As many of you will know, my personal preference is to Remain in the EU. However, I will do all I can to respect the referendum result and deliver a deal which, whilst leaving the EU, does not undermine your jobs and prospects.
Member of Parliament for Brent North