Since the EU referendum I have received over 5000 emails, many of them from constituents desperately worried about the implications of Brexit for Bristol, and for the whole of the UK. You can read below most of the letter I sent in reply.
Over several months of the referendum campaign I set out a positive case for the UK to remain a member of the EU, and the final result has been devastating for those of us with a progressive political outlook. However, we can be proud that Bristol West voted by an 80-20 margin for ‘Remain’. Bristol has signalled that it’s determined to continue to be an inclusive and tolerant city that welcomes people from all nationalities and backgrounds.
Our economy is now fragile and I recognise the risks posed to the UK following the decision to leave the EU. I’m also concerned by the apparent lack of planning by the Government for the result of the referendum across all policy areas. It’s important that the Government now facilitates as positive a transition as possible, bringing forward measures to reduce volatility and provide protections for people's jobs, wages and pensions.
I know there is particular concern over the legal status of EU nationals currently residing in the UK, and of UK nationals residing in other EU countries. I believe it’s vital that EU citizens currently living or working in the UK have their residency rights protected, and likewise for UK citizens currently living or working in the EU. The Government should act to remove uncertainty around this matter immediately.
So far, I’ve consulted lawyers, civil servants and European officials, and have been in touch with local businesses, universities, voluntary and arts organisations, councillors and the Mayor. I’ve also been reading a number of briefings and academic papers on the legal and constitutional implications of leaving the EU, which has given me a better idea of the potential consequences for Bristol and for the arts, the environment and workers’ rights. In addition, I’ve helped to establish an all-party committee of MPs who will be scrutinising the exit process and its fallout.
There are a number of options that our country can now take in response to the referendum result, and many constituents have contacted me to urge me to support a particular course of action being taken. I have been seriously considering all of these possibilities and I’d like to outline my current position.
In order for the UK to officially exit the EU, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty must be triggered, which starts a two-year countdown to the exit. Some have called for Article 50 to be triggered immediately. This would mean a short time to negotiate robust trade deals with the EU and market access conditions to protect the millions of jobs which depend on EU membership; and the safeguarding of EU workers’ rights and environmental protections we currently benefit from. I will therefore argue for there to be as long a delay as possible before Article 50 is triggered.
In addition, a Parliamentary debate and vote is required before Article 50 can be triggered. Many have called for MPs to vote against triggering Article 50, meaning that Brexit will not take place, and I have sympathy with this argument. The responsibility for the referendum lies with David Cameron, who called it for political reasons without believing the result would be for the country to leave. There are legal questions about some of the material circulated during the campaign and I’m following the development of any legal challenges. I will be working with my colleagues to hold the Government to its legal obligation to have a Parliamentary debate and vote.
I’ve also received correspondence urging for a second referendum to take place, and a related Parliamentary petition on this has gained 4.1 million signatures (24,000 of these coming from Bristol West). I believe that having an immediate second referendum as an attempt to override the result of the first would cause even greater political turmoil than that which has already been caused. However, one option is for there to be a second referendum when exit negotiations have taken place, to ask people if they’re satisfied with the agreements secured. I’m considering this proposal at the moment and taking advice from others on how this could work.
The single market
As you may know, the UK can leave the EU but retain membership of the European single market. This would preserve numerous benefits of EU membership, guaranteeing the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people within the single market area. I’ll work with other Labour MPs to press the Government to do all it can to negotiate access to the single market in the event of Article 50 being triggered.
I hope this is helpful in responding to your concerns, and I’m sorry if I’m not able to respond to every query or concern you may have raised. Please note, though, that I will be holding a public meeting about Brexit in late September, for anyone in Bristol West who has concerns, questions, ideas, or matters they wish me to take up in Parliament. If you’re interested in attending, please email me at email@example.com.