On Wednesday I spoke in Labour’s Opposition Day Debate on “Parliamentary Scrutiny of Leaving the European Union”. The following motion was presented by Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union:
"That this House recognises that Brexit is the defining issue facing the UK; believes there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for Brexit and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure this House is able to properly scrutinise government plans for Brexit before Article 50 is invoked".
I am keen to stand up for my constituents on this issue, who voted by an 80-20 margin for Remain and who are as concerned as I am at the Government’s indication that Parliament won’t have a say over the exit negotiations. Continued membership of the Single Market should be at the heart of our negotiating position; a ‘Hard Brexit’ would cause severe damage to jobs and our economy. The Government has no mandate for Hard Brexit and should not be riding roughshod over the country’s interests. Labour’s Parliamentary team will continue to expose the Government’s confused and damaging plans in the months ahead.
Read my speech below or watch using the video link at the bottom of the page:
I rise to speak in defence of free movement of people and to ask the Government why they are so recklessly forgetting any consideration of what it brings and casting it aside. I want in particular to ask them to consider the impact of that on whether we can be part of the single European market.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I will be a remainer till I die. I passionately believe in the value that being part of the European Union, with all its flaws but also all its many benefits, brings to us. I was also particularly inspired to hear the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) speak so passionately and eloquently in favour of free movement of people.
In Bristol West people voted overwhelmingly for remain—it was close to 80%. Those people have asked me to speak, on their behalf, for hanging on for as long as we possibly can to everything that is good about the European Union. They have particularly asked me to speak out in favour of free movement of people. Before I say anything further, I want to say something to all those EU citizens living and working in and contributing to the life of Bristol, in the health service, the hospitals, the universities and our tech and creative industries—not displacing British people from jobs, but sharing their knowledge, transferring their skills and working in a reciprocal way, as UK citizens travel to the European Union and share their skills. I say to all the EU citizens in Bristol, we welcome you, we value you and we want you to stay. I believe that many others feel the same way about EU citizens in their constituencies.
The risks of giving up free movement of people are profound. I want to speak briefly about the benefits of free movement. Free movement of people has been presented as something done to us, instead of something about which we also have options and in which we also participate. Which of us does not want our sons and daughters, and our nephews and nieces, to have the choice of whether to live, work or study in or travel around the European Union? So many young people—70% to 80%—voted for remain. I think also of the 16 and 17-year-olds who were denied the right to vote in the referendum by the Government. They have told me that they feel betrayed by the older generation and robbed of opportunities. I think of the apprentices at Airbus, who at the moment can move between different aerospace industry sites across Europe. And I think of the musicians who can currently tour around the European Union. Will they be required to have separate visas for each of the 27 countries? Will there be separate entry regulations for all their equipment?
The risks for us of giving up free movement of people are profound. Tech industries, the university and the creative industries in my constituency have told me that they are already being cut out of applications to the Horizon 2020 research and development fund. That is no small matter. It is about not just money, but knowledge, improving our economy, our future and jobs.
If the Government want to jettison all of that, the Secretary of State should at least have had the courtesy to inform the British people what they were risking. The Government should respect the sovereignty of this Parliament, which Brexit campaigners made so much of. Does the Secretary of State really want to throw all that away? It is clear to me that they have no plan for the future of this country, and if they throw it all away, without debate, without proper scrutiny and without the full participation of the British people, my constituents and the country will never forgive them.